Porringer

about 1715–25
John Dixwell (American, 1680 or 1681–1725)


Object Place: Boston, Massachusetts

Dimensions

4.8 x 20.4 x 14.2 cm (1 7/8 x 8 1/16 x 5 9/16 in.)

Accession Number

1991.586

Medium or Technique

Silver

Not On View

Collections

Americas

Classifications

Silver hollowware

The raised vessel has a central dome with convex sides and a vertical rim. Its center point is visible on the dome, both inside and underneath the bowl. A pierced keyhole-style handle is soldered at right angles to rim. The handle has been bent downward at the tip.


As one of the leading Boston silversmiths of the early eighteenth century, John Dixwell operated a moderately sized shop that received many important church and private commissions. He also appears to have been among the first American-born silversmiths to be influenced by the prevailing baroque style, the result of a trip to England in 1710. The fashion for designs introduced by French Huguenot silversmiths then working in London, with their emphasis on simple forms, can be seen in the two-handled bell-shaped beakers and dome-top tankards that Dixwell introduced to his Boston patrons in the years after his voyage.
The exact origin of the ubiquitous so-called keyhole porringer handle, popular throughout the colonies in the eighteenth century, is unclear. Nevertheless, Dixwell was possibly the first silversmith to abandon the geometric handle style in favor of this new decorative embellishment. He made several keyhole-handled porringers prior to his death in 1725.

This text has been adapted from “Silver of the Americas, 1600-2000,” edited by Jeannine Falino and Gerald W.R. Ward, published in 2008 by the MFA. Complete references can be found in that publication.

Inscription

The roman letters "G / D * M" are engraved on the handle, with letters facing bowl. "ETA" in sprigged script was added in a later hand on the convex side of porringer opposite handle.

Markings

To left of handle is marked "ID" in roman letters within an ellipse.

Provenance

Family history places original ownership in the Greenleaf family, but cannot be proven. The later script monogram is probably that of Elizabeth Turner Amory (1820-1846),1 who married Ivers James Austin (1808-1889) in 1846.2 To their daughter, Catherine Austin (b. 1850), d. unm.; to her niece Elizabeth Shaw Greene (1886-1945) and maritime historian Samuel Eliot Morison (1887-1976), m. 1910; to their daughter and the donor: Catherine Victoria Morison (b. 1925), wife of Julian Cooper.3

1. Emma Worcester Sargent Epes Sargent of Gloucester and his Descendants, (Boston, Ma.: Houghton, Mifflin, and Co., 1923), pp. 146, 148. n.a. Sargent Genealogy: William Sargent and his Descendants to the Children of the Sixth Generation (Typescript, NEHG Library, c. 1951), pp. 56, 145.

2. Edith Austin Moore and William Allen Day, comp., Descendants of Richard Austin of Charlestown, Massachusetts, 1638, St. Petersburg, Fla.: Privately printed, 1968), pp. 102, 186.

3. George Abbot Morison, Nathaniel Morison and His Descendants (Peterborough, N.H.: Peterborough Historical Society, 1951), p. 150; Gary Boyd Robert, "New England Ancestry of HRH Princess of Wales," NEHGR 136 (October 1982):324. Massachusetts Vital Records, Marriages.

Credit Line

Gift of Catharine Cooper-Morison