John Coney (American, 1655 or 1656–1722)
Object Place: Boston, Massachusetts
Overall: 12.5 x 24.4 cm (4 15/16 x 9 5/8 in.)
Medium or Technique
Burton A. Cleaves Gallery (Gallery LG27)
The heavy-gauge raised vessel has a scribed, thin, applied, molded rim and nearly straight sides, curving to a flat bottom supported by a molded splayed foot ring.
Perhaps the earliest-known example of monumental late baroque American silver, this punch bowl by John Coney marks the fruitful relationship between colonial and English cultures during the early eighteenth century. Along with the teapot and chocolate pot, the punch bowl is one of several stylish English forms that Coney was the first to make in the colonies.
The bowl was fashioned for Capt. Walter Riddell of Granton, a harbor near Edinburgh, Scotland. Riddell commanded the man-of-war Falmouth, arrived off the coast of Cape Ann on November 10, 1708, and returned to England in May 1709. Riddell kept a watchful eye on the valuable fisheries at Marblehead, Cape Ann, and the Piscataqua River near Portsmouth, which were vulnerable to attack from the French. He played an important role during this period of intense hostility between the English and French and participated in high-level negotiations with Philippe de Rigeau, the marquis de Vaudreuil, governor of North France (Canada) in 1710 for the release of Esther Williams, the celebrated “unredeemed captive” abducted during the Deerfield massacre of 1704.
In short, Riddell was a royal appointee among many who arrived in Massachusetts following the 1692 charter that established English hegemony over the region’s political affairs. Many of these newly settled officials desired furnishings for their homes and were potential sources of income for those Boston craftsmen who could deliver work in an urban style to suit the patrons’ taste. Silversmiths met the demand by keeping abreast of the latest fashions through the examination of newly imported examples that they repaired or sold. Recently arrived London craftsmen also brought a knowledge of new designs to Boston.
The hemispherical form of the punch bowl is derived from porcelain prototypes made in the Wan-li style of early-seventeenth-century China and exported to England, exerting a powerful influence on ceramics and metalwork. The English affinity for the form held considerable sway over colonial styles as well, for John Coney’s early Baroque style of silversmithing, as learned from his master, Jeremiah Dummer, was tempered by this aesthetic. For this punch bowl, which Coney produced as a mature craftsman, he fashioned a simple volumetric form with restrained ornament that had become stylish in England. As with all the arts produced at this time, the punch bowl demonstrates the close cultural ties between colony and mother country, despite the era’s political tensions.
During Riddell’s six-and-a-half-month stay in the colonies, it is unclear whether he set foot in Boston. Nevertheless, he did have contact with a “Mr. Faneuil,” presumably Andrew Faneuil (d. 1738), as well as Gov. Joseph Dudley (1647 – 1720), among other dignitaries, who might have directed Riddell to Coney.
The Riddell arms of Roxburghshire, Scotland, are displayed on the punch bowl, with the pronoun “I” removed from the original motto “I hope to share.” The heraldic insignia definitively establishes the bowl’s date of purchase before 1715, when the arms were modified as a consequence of Riddell’s naval exploits in 1709 and 1715. Upon his return to England in May 1709, Riddell successfully defended the Falmouth and a convoy of vessels against the French, thereby saving £20,000 of “New England money” on board. In 1715, as commander of the frigate of war Phoebe, Riddell captured thirty-seven vessels in a second major battle with the French fleet. Following this encounter, Riddell was authorized to change the family escutcheon to reflect his accomplishments. One ear of rye was substituted with a boat with oars, and for the Granton branch of the family, the motto “Row and Retake” replaced “I hope to share.” Riddell also acquired the barony of West Granton at this time, probably a result of his naval service. The volumetric, architectural treatment of the mantling, with its interlocking scrolls, is nearly identical to those found on the great Colman mon-teith, made about the same time as the punch bowl, as well as a covered two-handled cup made by Coney in 1718 for Harvard tutor Henry Flynt.
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.
Riddell coat of arms within an elliptical shield having a chevron with two ears of rye above and one below, engraved within a foliated and scrolled mantling. The motto "HOPE TO SHARE" is inscribed on a scroll below arms.
On bottom of vessel marked "IC" crowned over a coney and set within a shield-shaped cartouche.
Probably purchased in Boston by Walter Riddell (c. 1679-1738) of England; probably by descent in the Reddell family in England; before 1972 discovered by Mrs. Yvonne Riddell Crow among family belongings in Roxburgshire; February 11, 1972, sold by Mrs. Crow at Phillips Auctioneers, London, Sale 18,923, lot. 183 (1), purchased by London dealer Thomas Lumley for Boston dealers Firestone and Parson; 1972 purchased from Firestone and Parson by the MFA. (Accession date: September 13, 1972)
1:The bowl was misidentified in the Phillips catalogue as the work of English silversmith J. Cornasseau, now called Isaac Cornafleau (w. 1722-1724).
Theodora Wilbour Fund in memory of Charlotte Beebe Wilbour