Caudle cup

about 1690


Catalogue Raisonné

Buhler, 1972, No. 34

Dimensions

Overall (h x dia of base): 14.3 x 13 cm (5 5/8 x 5 1/8 in.); Other (Dia of rim): 14.6 cm (5 3/4 in.); Weight: 26 oz., 17 1/2 dwt.

Accession Number

65.388

Medium or Technique

Silver

On View

Burton A. Cleaves Gallery (Gallery LG27)

Collections

Americas

Classifications

Silver hollowware

Gourd-shaped, embossed on lower half of body with figure of child coming from flower on each side and varoius flowers (tulips carnations and daisies?). Plain neck with moulded rim. Beaded and scrolled cast handles with woman’s head on shoulders.


European floral imagery, enriched by the addition of cherubs, is seen on this caudle cup as chased (or hammered) decoration. The high quality of this ornament suggests that it was the work of a London-trained craftsman in John Coney’s shop. The cup was made for John and Mary (Brattle) Mico, perhaps at the time of their marriage in 1689. Caudle, a warm ceremonial drink of sack or another type of wine mixed with eggs, bread, spices, and sugar, was considered suitable for such occasions as weddings and baptisms, during which the cup was passed from hand to hand by the handles.

The cup eventually descended to Oliver Wendell Holmes, the famed Boston physician and writer. In 1848, Holmes penned the poem “On Lending a Punch-Bowl” as a romantic tribute to his family’s “ancient silver bowl,” which he describes as the work of an “Antwerp smith,” brought to Plymouth on the Mayflower. This charming but mistaken notion is understandable given the cup’s superb workmanship and European-style imagery, and the fact that early American silver was not well understood at the time. After tracing the cup’s history, Holmes concludes:
I love the memory of the past,-its pressed yet flagrant flowers,-
The moss that clothes its broken walls, -the ivory in its towers;-
Nay, this poor bawble it bequeathed,-my eyes grown moist and dim,
To think of all the vanished joys that danced around its brim.

Such nostalgic sentiments, expressed with greater frequency as the nineteenth century progressed, served to stimulate the collecting of “Americana” that continues unabated today.

This text was adapted from Ward, et al., MFA Highlights: American Decorative Arts & Sculpture (Boston, 2006) available at www.mfashop.com/mfa-publications.html.

Inscription

Engraved IMM in block letters on bottom and Oliver Wendell Holmes in later script on neck.

Markings

IC fleur-de-lis below in shaped heart on bottom and neck.

Provenance

John and Mary (Brattle) Mico, m. 1689; by inheritance to Jacob Wendell (1691-1761) of Albany, who worked for John Mico; by descent to Mr and Mrs Edward Jackson Holmes (1); 1930, lent by Mr and Mrs Holmes to the MFA; 1941, returned; 1960, re-lent by Mrs. Holmes; 1965, bequest of Mrs. Holmes to the MFa. (Accession date: March 10, 1965)

1: Jacob m. 1714 Sarah Oliver; their son Oliver m. 1762 Mary Jackson; their daughter Sarah, m. 1801 Rev Abiel Holmes; their son Oliver Wendell Holmes, m. 1840 Amelia Lee Jackson; their son Oliver Wendell Holmes m. 1861 Fanny Dixwell; his nephew Edward Jackson Holmes.

Credit Line

The Edward Jackson Holmes Collection—Bequest of Mrs. Edward Jackson Holmes