William Cowell, Sr. (American, 1682 or 1683–1736)

Object Place: Boston, Massachusetts


19.7 x 18.1 cm (7 3/4 x 7 1/8 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


Not On View




Silver hollowware

The raised straight-sided tankard is slightly wider at base and has a drawn stepped base molding and a single midband in the lower third. A domed stepped lid has downturned lip with scored edge and a flange within. The small button finial is seated upon a swelled center with evidence of solder, suggesting a later repair. The scrolled thumbpiece is cast, and the five-part hinge descends to a short molded drop on seamed handle. The handle is joined to the body at lower terminus by a flat oval disk. Terminal has convex oval disk and semicircular air vent below.

William Cowell Sr. was a prolific silversmith who produced both domestic and ecclesiastical silver. He received commissions from many Congregational churches and at least one Episcopal church. Cowell was patronized by local churches in Boston, Hull, and Newton, Massachusetts, and also received more distant requests from Stratford and Farmington, Connecticut. The tankard produced for the First Church in Newton was made during a period of great activity in his workshop, when Cowell was in his prime.

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.


Engraved opposite the handle, within a circle embellished with modest foliate decoration is engraved in script "The Gift of / Mr. John Staples / TO THE / Church of Christ / in / Newtown May 28th / 1727". Scratch weight of "24 13" found on bottom.


To left of handle and on base at center is stamped "WC" in a shield having a star above flanked by two pellets and one pellet below. On lid between finial and thumbpiece is stamped "W. Cowell" in script within a shaped rectangle.


Yeoman John Staples (d. 1740) was the sponsor for the Cowell tankard, which he gave in 1727. Staples’s continued support of the church is recorded in his will, dated April 24, 1740, and proved January 5, 1740 – 41. He bequeathed “seventeen acres of land available towards the support of ye Ministerial use from year to year annually for so long as it shall be continued for a woodlot & I do desire & empower the Selectman of sd town to appoint what Trees shall be cut down annually so as that no strip or waste shall be made of wood or timber for any other use whatsoever save only for the ministers use.” 1973, gift of the First Church of Newton, Mass. to the MFA.

Credit Line

Gift of the First Church in Newton