Patch box

1759
Samuel Edwards (American, 1705–1762)


Object Place: Boston, Massachusetts

Dimensions

0.4 x 3.2 x 2.4 cm (3/16 x 1 1/4 x 15/16 in.)

Accession Number

1991.608a-b

Medium or Technique

Silver

Not On View

Collections

Americas

Classifications

Silver hollowware

The constructed patch box is composed of two elliptical disks and matching narrow sides that form the lid and base. The soldered sides of the lid and base overlap for friction fitting. The top of the lid is engraved with a figure-eight design having a lozenge at its center; a herringbone pattern adorns the border.


Patch boxes, like snuffboxes and chatelaines, are small personal items meant to be carried and held by their owners. These diminutive fashionable boxes held ornamental patches of various shapes for beautifying the face and were used by women and men despite sumptuary laws decrying such vanities. Early examples were circular until the first quarter of the century, when the elliptical form, as seen in this example, prevailed. Nearly all have delicate engraving atop their friction-fitted lids. Comparable elliptical examples were fashioned by Samuel Vernon, Benjamin Brenton, William Whitemore, and Jacob Hurd, among others.
Small talismanic possessions such as patch boxes often carry much symbolic content. This tiny patch box was likely made by Samuel Edwards for his fifty-nine-year-old sister, Mary Edwards Storer, as a token of his affection rather than for its cosmetic function. That such containers were used at various times and valued in both town and country can be inferred from a close study of this example and another made by John Dixwell for Sarah Pierpont (1709/10 – 1758) of New Haven, Connecticut. Sarah, daughter of the Rev. James Pierpont (1660 – 1714), received her patch box sometime before her sixteenth birthday. She became the wife of the Rev. Jonathan Edwards (1703 – 1758), who inspired the controversial revival called the “Great Awakening” in his Northampton, Massachusetts, congregation. The Edwardses were sharply criticized by their detractors, especially Sarah for her “lavish” ways. Her patch box was found on the grounds of their farm in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, a rural outpost where Jonathan Edwards ministered after his dismissal in 1751 from the Northampton ministry. In both cases, the patch boxes were made for women of some social standing; Sarah was the daughter of a minister and Mary the wife of a Boston merchant. However, age, religion, and geography had little influence on their ownership of such elegant objects, which served primarily as symbols of gentility and taste.

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.

Inscription

"Mary * Storer / [tilda] 1759 [tilda]" in script is engraved on base.

Markings

Very small touchmark "S [pellet] E" within a rectangle is stamped inside base of patch box.

Provenance

Although the significance of the engraved date “1759” is unknown, the box was most likely made by Edwards for his sister Mary (Edwards) Storer (1700 – 1771), rather than her daughter Mary (b. 1725), whose name would have changed after her marriage to Edward Green in 1757. Mary Edwards m. York, Maine, merchant Ebenezer Storer (1699 – 1761) in 1723. Descent in the Storer family, possibly through her granddaughter and namesake, Mary Storer (b. 1758), and Seth Johnson, m. 1796.
The box may have accompanied the Samuel Edwards saucepan (1991.607) that was given by Mary Storer Johnson to her niece Martha Wilson and David Murray of New Brunswick, New Jersey; by descent to her kinsman Malcolm Storer (1862 – 1935) and his wife, Grace Ayrault (1868 – about 1963), m. 1899. By descent to their daughter Muriel Storer (b. 1904), the donor, and Egerton Burpee Sawtell, m. 1931, who made the gift in her parents’ name.

Credit Line

Gift of Grace and Malcolm Storer