Trencher Salt (one of a pair)
John Coney (American, 1655 or 1656–1722)
Object Place: Boston, Massachusetts
2.9 x 7.7 x 6 cm (1 1/8 x 3 1/16 x 2 3/8 in.)
Medium or Technique
Burton A. Cleaves Gallery (Gallery LG27)
This low octagonal salt is of roughly rectangular shape with two long and six shorter sides. The shallow oval bowl is set within a faceted body having concave sides that splay inward from wide, scored base. The foot is reinforced with applied wire.
The trencher salt, intended for placement at each diner’s trencher, or plate, was first used at English and American tables during the early eighteenth century. Its modest scale followed the majestic spool-shaped salts of the late seventeenth century that were traditionally placed near the head of the household and whose size alone commanded respect for the rare commodity they contained. As local saltworks became established along the Massachusetts coast, and the spice was obtained locally, the trencher salt came into use in several low forms that were sometimes made in pairs.
The octagonal trencher salt, actually a rectangular form with canted corners and an oval interior, was popular in England but rarely seen in the colonies. This pair is unique in Coney’s oeuvre. According to family tradition, the salts were a wedding gift to Lydia Bowes from John Hancock; but due to their likely date of fabrication, he probably inherited them from his uncle Thomas Hancock (1703 – 1763), a merchant. Aside from another pair by Coney that are oval, an example made about 1730 by Jacob Hurd, and a pair dated 1745 and made by Joseph Richardson Sr., apparently few salts of this shape were made in the colonies.
According to family history, the salts were traditionally used with a pair of later Jacob Hurd salt spoons (cat. no. 81). Hancock’s wedding gift to Bowes also included a tankard by London silversmith Thomas Moore II and a creampot by Samuel Gray.
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.
Inscribed in Roman capitals on base: A/T*H. Later text on exterior in Gothic capitals along length of trencher: W, probably for Whitney family of Shirley, Massachusetts.
On underside of bowl: crowned IC over a coney, within a shield. Buhler 1972, mark d.
The original owner, whose initials “A / T * H” are engraved on the salts, is unknown. According to the donor, the patriot John Hancock gave the salts to his first cousin Lydia Bowes (1749 – 1805), on her marriage in 1770 to Rev. Phinehas Whitney (1740 – 1819) of Shirley; the Gothic W was added later in the nineteenth century. By descent to their son Thomas Whitney (1771 – 1884) and Henrietta Parker (1775 – 1864) of the same town, m. 1799; to their son James Phineas Whitney (1802 – 1847) and Lydia Bowes Parker Treadwell (b. 1815), m. 1836; to their daughter Henrietta Parker Whitney (1837 – 1900) and Andrew McFarland Davis (b. 1833) of Worcester, m. 1862. To their daughter Frederica King Davis (1869 – before 1964) and Thomas Russell Watson (1850 – 1920) of Plymouth and Middletown, m. 1901; to their three daughters, Eleanor Whitney Watson (Mrs. Thomas B. Coolidge) (b. 1902), Marjorie (Mrs. T. Dana Hill) (b. 1903), and Mrs. William Payson. Purchased from Mrs. Coolidge and Mrs. Hill by the donors and made a gift
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William L. Payson