Tray, part of four-piece coffee service
Franklin Porter (American, 1869–1935)
Object Place: Danvers, Massachusetts, United States
1 x 25.3 x 40.9 cm (3/8 x 9 15/16 x 16 1/8 in.)
Medium or Technique
Not On View
Made of seamed heavy-gauge sheet silver, the tray has upset (or hammered and thickened) edges and a scintillating hammered surface. It was shaped by hammering.The tray is rectangular with rounded corners and a narrow raised rim, which has been crimped.
Franklin Porter was a self-professed morally earnest silversmith. With each piece sold, he included a card describing his noble intent to impart with his handiwork an ethic and aesthetic of “Simplicity and Service.” Unlike many other aspiring silversmiths from his generation, Porter worked alone. He never joined with a partner, nor did he participate in one of the shop collectives prevalent at the time. Remarkably, this independence did not limit his production, for he later applied efficient procedures learned as a machinist to his approach to silversmithing; he also benefited from the assistance of his daughter Helen L. Philbrick. Porter’s work consists mostly of flatware and small accessories, such as mustard pots, bowls, and plates. His hollowware is rarely encountered today, though he did receive commissions for communion sets as well as tea and children’s services.
Porter learned his trade through courses at the Rhode Island School of Design and technical training at Browne and Sharpe in Providence. From 1910 to 1914, he worked out of his home in Bristol Ferry, Rhode Island, selling to a local clientele and regular customers in Newport. He and his family eventually moved to Middleton, Massachusetts, where his wife, Ethel, operated a tearoom in the front of the house that also served as a salesroom. In the early years of automobile travel, such tearooms developed as popular roadside stops. World War I interrupted Porter’s silversmithing as he contributed to the war effort as a machinist and master mechanic at two local factories.
During this period, Porter and his family became caretakers of the historic Judge Samuel Holten House in Danvers. In 1924 Porter returned full-time to his craft, operating a workshop from Holten House. He capitalized on the appeal of traditional time-honored forms and offered many wares in the colonial style. This set, with its strap handles and pronounced hammered surface, displays an Arts and Crafts design. His fastidious attention to detail can be noted in the precision with which he tapered each vessel, leaving hammer marks as a testament to his skill and the fine-wrought construction. The ample tray was made to accommodate the service as well as ceramic cups and saucers.
The set is characteristic of Porter’s wares and is distinguished by its visual and physical weight. Given his proficiency as a machinist, he was preoccupied with the crafting of his wares, taking extra care with their mechanical functioning. For example, the hinging apparatus on the lid and the bolts that attach the handle on the coffeepot are prominent features. Porter typically relied on his knowledge of practical mechanics to solve design issues, sometimes favoring technical solutions over generally accepted silversmithing methods.
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.
“F [reversed, with a conjoined] P / STERLING / F. Porter” struck incuse
Original owner unknown; subsequent ownership unknown until the Museum purchased the service from T. & R. Yonge, Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1982.
Harriet Otis Cruft Fund