John Burt (American, 1692/93–1745/46)
Object Place: Boston, Massachusetts
16.1 x 21.5 x 9.9 cm (6 5/16 x 8 7/16 x 3 7/8 in.)
Medium or Technique
Not On View
The raised vessel is pear shaped and narrows upward to a generous drawn and molded rim; a drawn, molded, and splayed foot ring is soldered to the base. The hollow, seamed scroll handles have long flat tongues at the shoulder, which end in an ogee shape; they have a rounded drop at the upper joint with the body and are directly soldered without an intervening disk at each lower section. The terminus is spade shaped; a crescent-shaped air hole appears below.
Two-handled communion cups were common in Congregational churches beginning in the early eighteenth century and persisted in use and production for about 140 years. A hybrid form derived from the slender beaker and the shorter caudle cup, these vessels enabled churches to use fewer pieces of communion plate to circulate wine among the congregation. The handles allowed congregants to pass the cup securely and comfortably, and the large size allowed many to drink from the same cup. As the eighteenth century progressed, taller foot rings and stems shifted the vessel’s balance upward. Otherwise, they remained faithful to the form introduced earlier in the century.
Drawn and molded silver strips — similar to those used for cup handles, applied rims, and foot rings — were the preferred means of creating handles for most two-handled cups. Such elements were easily fashioned by pulling metal through a shaped device at the drawing bench; on occasion, they were simply cut from flat sections and chased. Either way, the handles were usually of a gauge similar to the vessel walls. Their slender silhouette gave a light and airy appearance to the communion cups.
The hollow handles found on this cup are an early departure from this convention. They are of a good size to grip, similar to those normally found on tankards, many canns, and mugs. Burt produced this cup in 1728, the same year he made a similar pair for the Essex, Massachusetts, congregation. A second pair that he produced four years later for the Essex church was also fashioned in the same manner. However, at least seven other examples Burt made between 1724 and 1730 follow the traditional pattern of strap handles. Perhaps the cost of fabricating such handles prevented him from making others of this type. A survey of makers in his generation shows that strap handles were the typical choice for these cups. Force of habit and style, as well as cost, may have prevented hollow-handled cups from finding a greater appreciation among their makers and users.
Ironically, beakers by John Coney and John Dixwell that were also owned by New North Church received hollow handles later in the eighteenth century. For unknown reasons, the Coney cup received two handles, one of which was later removed, and the Dixwell cup was given one, perhaps to unify its appearance with the Burt cup.
Burt’s 1714 marriage to Abigail, sister of merchant Joshua Cheever (1686/87 – about 1750), an original church member, deacon, and ruling elder, may have brought this commission, his only marked piece among the church plate. In 1723 Samuel Barrett, patron of the Burt cup, had given a two-handled cup with strap handles, made by John Dixwell. After Dixwell’s death in 1725, Barrett, or more likely a high-ranking member of the church such as Cheever, would have ordered the plate and thus may have turned to John Burt.
In view of Burt’s family relationship to the Cheevers, he may have also made an unmarked two-handled cup with strap handles, engraved in 1727 with the name of Joshua Cheever, that figures among the communion plate at New North Church.5 If so, it stands as a traditional version made for his brother-in-law, created one year before he experimented briefly with the hollow handle form.
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.
On vessel between lower handle joins is the script engraving "The Gift of Mr Samel Barrett to The New North / Church of Christ In Boston May 4th 1728." Scratch weight of "16-4" incised on bottom.
To the right of each handle is marked "I BURT" in italics, within a shaped rectangle.
Given to New North Church, (also known as Fifth Church) Boston, by deacon Samuel Barrett, who was elected deacon in 1723, and elevated to the position of ruling elder in 1736. An 1863 merger of New North Church with the Bulfinch-Street Church was followed about 1884 by the complete dissolution of the church. Sometime before the church was disbanded, a quantity of the silver was sold to King's Chapel, which had lost much of their communion plate during the Revolutionary War. Presumably at the same sale, other items, including the Burt vessel, were privately purchased. Edward C. Storrow (____-d. 1933?), the first known secular owner, may have acquired the cup in this manner. The cup was placed on loan to the Museum in 1911, with ownership transferred in 1929 to Mrs. Edward C. Storrow, and in 1941 to their daughter, Alice Storrow Rotch (1900-1971) of Milton, Massachusetts. By descent to her husband, Arthur Rotch (1899-1973), and to their children, the donors, Anne Rotch Magendantz, Edward C. Rotch, and A. Lawrence Rotch.
Worthley, p. 72-74; Jones 1913, p. 59-67. All silver acquired by King's Chapel from New North were inscribed "Kings Chapel. Easter 1872," suggesting that their purchase took place before the disbanding of the church in the 1880s.
Gift of the family of Alice Storrow Rotch