Samuel Vernon (American, 1683–1737)
Object Place: Newport, Rhode Island
18 x 19.2 cm (7 1/16 x 7 9/16 in.)
Medium or Technique
Not On View
The raised vessel has straight, tapering sides and a drawn and molded baseband; a center point is not evident. Below the applied and molded lip, the vessel is scored three times. The stepped lid with flat top and center point has a broad scored rim with a serrated edge near hinge and opposite handle. A five-part hinge with meander wire and short baluster drop is set below a repaired dolphin-and-mask thumbpiece. A hollow seamed S-scroll handle has a long rattail with rounded tip; the lower join is soldered to an elliptical disk. A shield-shaped terminus with acanthus border decoration displays a portrait bust at its center; a crude round air vent is beneath the terminus.
Little is known about Samuel Vernon’s youth aside from the names of his parents, Daniel and Ann (Dyer) Hutchinson Vernon, of Narragansett, Rhode Island, and his familial link to silversmith Edward Winslow, who was his mother’s nephew.1 Vernon may have served as Winslow’s apprentice, but some aspects of his silver are similar to the work of John Coney. In particular, an eagle thumbpiece, unique in colonial New England silver, has been found on tankards by both men. At the same time, Vernon’s use of New York – style decorative leafy basebands, meander wirework, and flat-topped tankard lids point to influences west of Boston. His 1707 marriage to Elizabeth Fleet of Long Island would have taken place shortly after his apprenticeship or during his employment as a young journeyman. It is possible that a silversmith in the New York area provided Vernon with a new stylistic vocabulary, resulting in his unique fusion of New York and New England styles.
After his apprenticeship, Vernon returned to Rhode Island, where he established a shop in Newport and produced silver for local and Providence patrons, including the Malbone family, Nathaniel Paine, Benjamin Ellery, Job Almy, and Peleg Brown. He received a prestigious commission from the General Assembly of the Colony of Rhode Island, which in 1733 purchased three tankards for New York commissioners Col. Isaac Hicks of Hempstead, James Jackson of Flushing, and Col. Lewis Morris Jr. of Westchester. The assembly’s choice of Vernon may be indicative of the silversmith’s connections to New York as well as his prominence in Rhode Island civic affairs. Patrons north of Providence included Josiah Salisbury of Worcester, Massachusetts, and Daniel Arnold of Woonsocket, Rhode Island, the first owner of this tankard.
The plain-bodied tankard, New England in style, shares two unusual details with another, more ambitious example made for Josiah Salisbury. The classical portrait medallion on the terminus of each suggests that Vernon found or adapted this form from an unknown source. Although coins were occasionally used in colonial silver, Vernon incorporated them into at least three tankards, one of which was the General Assembly commission. In the case of the tankards for Arnold and Salisbury, he may have been emulating a Roman or later source with his image of a toga-clad youth reminiscent of the young Augustus. He imposed this classical form on a shield-shaped terminus, which he favored.
Both tankards also possess mask-and-dolphin thumbpieces, a decorative device in the Mannerist style that was popular among early New England silversmiths but often cast with little concern for detail. The Vernon tankards, by contrast, have cleanly cast and chased thumbpieces. The silversmith customized his decoration with grimacing masks that display bone-shaped mouths and bulging eyes and balanced them between the tails of open-mouthed grinning dolphins with ribbed bodies.
Still unexplained is a second touchmark on the lid that was struck squarely over one by Vernon. The “IC” mark within an ellipse is not that of John Coney, nor does it resemble the known marks of Vernon’s contemporaries, his kinsman John Coddington (1690 – 1743) or Jonathan Clarke (1706 – 1766). The mark probably belongs to a silversmith who repaired the vessel, perhaps sometime after Vernon’s death in 1737.
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.
Engraved "A / D * B" in roman letters on handle below hinge. In a later hand, "1757" engraved below initials.
Marked "SV" over a fleur-de-lis within a heart on body to left of handle; lower portion of same mark on base; apparently same mark on lid overstruck with "IC" in an oval.
Daniel Arnold (1699 – 1773) and Bathsheba Ballou (1698 – 1790) m. 1720, of Smithfield, Rhode Island; by descent to their daughter Rachel Arnold (1730 – 1820) of Smithfield, Rhode Island, and Stephen Arnold (1728 – 1796) m. 1746/49; to their son Cyrus Arnold (1774 – 1850) and Ruth Arnold (1778 – 1849) of Smithfield; by descent to their son Cyrus Arnold (1815 – 1902) and Celia Ann Ballou (1825 – 1906), m. 1846; to their daughter Lillian Alpha Arnold (1864 – 1906) and William E. Williams (1867 – 1954); to their daughter Ruth Virginia Williams (1903 – 1987) and Russell E. Ritchie (1903 – 1991), m. 1928; by descent to their daughters Celia Ann Ritchie and Jean Ritchie Dingerson, the donors.
Gift of Jean Ritchie Dingerson and Celia Ann Ritchie