Lewis Cary (American, 1798–1834)
Object Place: Boston, Massachusetts, United States
17.3 x 16 x 11 cm (6 13/16 x 6 5/16 x 4 5/16 in.)
Medium or Technique
Not On View
The body of the creampot is elliptical with cylindrical neck and high-drawn spout. A cast hollow handle is curved above the rim. Stamped bands of gadrooned decoration are applied to overlap the rim and encircle the raised molded base.
Inscribed “MP” for its original owner, Mary Porter, daughter of Dudley Porter of Salem, Massachusetts, this creampot may have been a bridal gift upon her marriage to Thomas Tileston in 1820. Tileston was born in Boston, where he first entered the printing trade. After a few years as editor of the Merrimack Intelligencer in Haverhill, Massachusetts, in 1818 he left with his family for New York City, where he became prominent in shipping and banking circles.
During the early nineteenth century, the size of tea- and coffeepots, creampots, and sugar and slop bowls increased. Dainty creampots, previously large enough to hold only a few ounces, grew to almost pint-sized vessels such as this, capable of serving a large family or group. Manufactured using a combination of handwork and machine work, it exemplifies techniques common during this period. Cary laboriously hand raised the creampot’s bowl and foot, with the sweep of the rim and wide curve of the urn-shaped body gathered in by the elegant detail of the ribbed neck.
Ornamental bands, such as the richly textured gadrooned ones encircling the rim and base, were made by various types of hand-operated pressing or stamping machines widely available to silversmiths. Produced in strips of varying widths, the bands could be cut to any length and soldered onto ornament to strengthen a rim or foot or to conceal a joint. Whether purchased from another shop or made in-house, these machined elements lowered the smith’s production costs while raising profits.
The apprenticeship of Quincy-born silversmith Lewis Cary has long been assigned to the firm of Churchill & Treadwell (see cat. no. 141). Boston tax records show that the firm had two apprentices in 1815, about the time Cary would have apprenticed. Later, Cary was engaged to provide additional silver for Boston’s West Church, whose early silver was made by Churchill. In 1814 Cary’s sister Lucy (1790 – 1860) married Boston silversmith Hazen Morse (1790 – 1874), and, according to an 1856 account, Lewis Cary bought his brother-in-law’s business in 1820, when Morse retired. However, Morse was only thirty years old in 1820 and apparently sold the silversmithing side of his business to his brother-in-law not to retire but to focus on a career as an engraver.
Both Jesse Churchill and Jabez Baldwin died in 1819, and the unexpected loss of two of the city’s leaders in the silver industry undoubtedly created opportunities for the youthful Cary. In 1821, owner of his own business, he married Adeline Billings in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Cary is best known for the ecclesiastical silver he made for not only Boston churches but congregations as far away as Deerfield, Massachusetts, about ninety miles west. Among a few surviving domestic forms from his shop are this cream pitcher, a large pair of presentation pitchers (cat. no. 184), and a three-piece tea set (1976.55 – 57) in the Museum’s collection. A presentation pitcher dated 1827 is in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. He also made an oval egg warmer with stand for a member of the Adams family. Cary was admitted as a silversmith into the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanics Society in 1828.8 Perhaps his most ambitious surviving work, the Lyman presentation pitchers of that year (cat. no. 184) may represent the summit of his career, for scarcely two years later he appeared in the Boston directory without occupation, and he died four years after that, at age thirty-six.
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.
"MP" engraved in large script letters on the side of the vessel to the right of the handle.
"L. Cary" in upper and lowercase Roman lettering stamped in a serrated banner on the bottom.
This creampot descended through the Porter/Tileston family to the donor. The pitcher descended to Mary and Thomas Tileston's daughter, Clara, perhaps when she married William Bryce in 1849. In turn, the Bryce's daughter, Mary Tileston Bryce (1859-1953) inherited the pitcher. She remained unmarried and bequeathed the creampot to her grandniece, Mary B. Comstock, the donor.1
1 DAB 18, 541; Tileston, Mary W., Thomas Tileston 1793-1864, Privately Printed, ca.1975.
Gift of Mary B. Comstock