Teapot

1762
Benjamin Burt (American, 1729–1805), Engraved by Nathaniel Hurd (American, 1729 or 1730–1777)


Object Place: Boston, Massachusetts

Dimensions

Overall: 15 x 22.5 cm, 0.56 kg (5 7/8 x 8 7/8 in., 1.23 lb.)

Accession Number

1983.210

Medium or Technique

Silver; replaced wooden handle

On View

Carolyn A. and Peter S. Lynch Gallery (Gallery 132)

Collections

Americas

Classifications

Silver hollowware

The teapot has a raised, inverted pear-shape body, with a center point on the bottom. The body is soldered to a stepped, splayed, cast foot with an applied foot rim. The round inset lid has a pineapple finial and a three-part hinge set flush to the shoulder. The S-scroll spout has applied foliate decoration on its receding upper tip; reeded decoration on its lower section spreads downward and is affixed over strainer holes. The upper socket is angled, and its simple foliate decoration ends in nodelike tendrils. The lower socket is circular and extends from the body at a slight angle. Both sockets are chased with a single line at edge of socket; pins secure the replaced wooden handle with scrolled thumbgrip.
Deeply punched and chased decoration around shoulder and handle consists of rosettes set amid leafy, scrolled, and raffled surface decoration. Four leafy triangular forms extend from the shoulder onto the lid; a six-leaved engraved decoration radiates from the center of the domed lid.


Two surviving teapots (cat. nos. 12 – 13) offer a glimpse into a prominent Providence family’s patronage of a Boston silversmith and a Boston engraver. This entry’s teapot, bearing the initials “O=B to A=B,” formed part of a larger service made by Benjamin Burt in 1763 for the marriage of Anna, the daughter of Providence merchant Obadiah Brown. Anna married her first cousin Moses Brown, who as a youth had come to live in her home; his father, James, had died shortly after Moses’s birth. The close relationship of uncle and nephew is evident in Obadiah’s will of 1762, which divided his estate into five equal portions for his four daughters and Moses, his “well beloved kinsman.” Obadiah had indirectly provided for the silver service through this will, as documented in the engraved initials described above.
Surviving drafts of Moses’s correspondence with Burt, dated August 19, 1763, reveal the extent of his order for wedding silver. Burt was requested to produce “one Silver Tankard, 6 porringers Teapots, point cans, Cream pott, pepper Caster 1 doz Table & 1 doz tea spoons and 1 pr Tea Tongs, made in the Neatest manner and in ye same fashion of those you Lateley made for Mr. Jabez Bowen of this place.”
Brown’s brother-in-law was Jabez Bowen, who in 1762 married Anna’s older sister Sarah. Although it cannot be ascertained whether the Bowen family silver was ordered from Burt by Obadiah Brown or his son-in-law, Jabez Bowen, Moses followed the lead established by the Bowen service, as can be noted in his choice of the same style and silversmith as well as similar brief dedications from Obadiah to his daughters (see cat. no. 12). A magnificent tankard, two porringers, and two creampots bearing the arms, crest, and description also survive from Moses Brown’s original order to Burt.
The remarkable productivity of Burt’s workshop can be assessed in light of his response to Brown. Three days after receiving the order, Burt replied, “I … can make the Plate therin mention’d in four Week’s or less,” indicating his ability to produce or procure work on short notice. In the same letter, Burt requested the name of an appropriate engraver, indicating that this specialized task was one that his own shop would not directly handle. Early in September, Moses responded to Burt, adding a “mustard” to his order and describing the arms he desired: “a chevron between Three Lyons Paws Erected with in a bordure and an Eagle display’d and the same as that Mr. N. Hurd Ingraved on a Seal for me Some time past.” In the 1760s the Brown family had engaged Nathaniel Hurd to engrave a plate for paper labels used on spermaceti candles, and, as noted, he had made a seal at a previous date. Thus Brown’s choice of Hurd, who was also one of the most respected engravers of his time, was based upon these previous experiences and Hurd’s reputation.
The teapots are nearly identical in form, cast elements, and decoration. The horizontal band of broken C scrolls, with raffles and rosettes, follows a pattern seen in the work of several Boston silversmiths, including Thomas Edwards and William Simpkins. In these two teapots, subtle disparities appear in the handling of the chased ornament. The earlier teapot dated 1762 has a linear design that gives prominence to elements such as the punched scalloped edge and repousséd rosettes. The teapot fashioned one year later displays an integrated flowing design that allows the eye to meander within a broader field of ornament. These differences reveal divergent approaches to the choice and handling of chasing tools; they may indicate a growing level of proficiency by the same unidentified artist rather than the work of two individuals.
Both teapots show that Burt produced silver that was at the height of fashion. The inverted pear form, with its dynamic rococo engraving and lavishly chased decoration, indicates that Burt closely followed London styles. The masterful integration of these elements demonstrates how the silversmith strove to fashion the best possible work in the most advanced taste for his wealthy patrons.

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

Beneath crest on body to right of handle is engraved "O=B to S=B" in shaded roman letters. Engraved with Bown family arms, an eagle volant in a bordure, the whole within an assymetrical cartouch and surrounded by foliate decoration, in center of side to left of handle. To the right of handle is the crest of a double-headed eagle displayed above a torse.

Markings

"BENJAMIN / BURT" within a shaped cartouche stamped on base above center point.

Provenance

Purchased with funds provided by Obadiah Brown (d. 1762) for his daughter Sarah (1742-1800), on the occasion of her marriage in 1762 to Jabez Bowen (1739-1815). Subsequent history unknown until the twentieth century, when purchased by silver collector Mark Bortman (1896-1967), and made a gift by his daughter, Jane Bortman Larus in 1983.

Credit Line

Gift of Jane Bortman Larus in memory of Mark Bortman