Teapot

1763
Benjamin Burt (American, 1729–1805), Engraver Nathaniel Hurd (American, 1729 or 1730–1777)


Object Place: Boston, Massachusetts

Dimensions

14.4 x 23 x 12.2 cm (5 11/16 x 9 1/16 x 4 13/16 in.)

Accession Number

1985.16

Medium or Technique

Silver with replaced, ebonized wooden handle

Not On View

Collections

Americas

Classifications

Silver hollowware

The raised teapot has an inverted pear-shaped body with center point on bottom; the body is soldered to a stepped splayed foot with an applied foot rim. The round inset lid is domed and has a pineapple finial and three-part hinge set flush to the shoulder. The S-scroll spout has applied foliate decoration on its receding upper tip; reeded decoration on the lower section spreads downward and is affixed over strainer holes. The upper socket is angled, and its simple foliate decoration terminates in a nodelike tendril. The circular lower socket extends at a slight angle, and both sockets are scored at the edge with a pair of pins securing the wooden replacement handle with scrolled grip. The teapot’s deeply chased decoration consists of broken scrolls with lacy edges on the sides and above the spout and handle. Below the scrolls, along the sides of the vessel, appear three prominent rosettes amid floral and punched surface decoration. Chasing encircles the shoulder and surrounds the upper socket, and four triangular forms extend from scrolls onto the lid; a six-leaved design is set at the center of the dome. Armorial engraving appears to left of handle, with the crest on opposite side. Some modern hammer marks are visible inside the lid, caused by the finial reattachment; also visible are small dents at the shoulder, to left of handle, and stress cracks inside the body, near the foot and upper socket.


Two surviving teapots (cat. nos. 12 – 13) offer a glimpse into a prominent Providence family’s patronage of a Boston silversmith and a Boston engraver. This entry’s teapot, bearing the initials “O=B to A=B,” formed part of a larger service made by Benjamin Burt in 1763 for the marriage of Anna, the daughter of Providence merchant Obadiah Brown. Anna married her first cousin Moses Brown, who as a youth had come to live in her home; his father, James, had died shortly after Moses’s birth. The close relationship of uncle and nephew is evident in Obadiah’s will of 1762, which divided his estate into five equal portions for his four daughters and Moses, his “well beloved kinsman.” Obadiah had indirectly provided for the silver service through this will, as documented in the engraved initials described above.
Surviving drafts of Moses’s correspondence with Burt, dated August 19, 1763, reveal the extent of his order for wedding silver. Burt was requested to produce “one Silver Tankard, 6 porringers Teapots, point cans, Cream pott, pepper Caster 1 doz Table & 1 doz tea spoons and 1 pr Tea Tongs, made in the Neatest manner and in ye same fashion of those you Lateley made for Mr. Jabez Bowen of this place.”
Brown’s brother-in-law was Jabez Bowen, who in 1762 married Anna’s older sister Sarah. Although it cannot be ascertained whether the Bowen family silver was ordered from Burt by Obadiah Brown or his son-in-law, Jabez Bowen, Moses followed the lead established by the Bowen service, as can be noted in his choice of the same style and silversmith as well as similar brief dedications from Obadiah to his daughters (see cat. no. 12). A magnificent tankard, two porringers, and two creampots bearing the arms, crest, and description also survive from Moses Brown’s original order to Burt.
The remarkable productivity of Burt’s workshop can be assessed in light of his response to Brown. Three days after receiving the order, Burt replied, “I … can make the Plate therin mention’d in four Week’s or less,” indicating his ability to produce or procure work on short notice. In the same letter, Burt requested the name of an appropriate engraver, indicating that this specialized task was one that his own shop would not directly handle. Early in September, Moses responded to Burt, adding a “mustard” to his order and describing the arms he desired: “a chevron between Three Lyons Paws Erected with in a bordure and an Eagle display’d and the same as that Mr. N. Hurd Ingraved on a Seal for me Some time past.” In the 1760s the Brown family had engaged Nathaniel Hurd to engrave a plate for paper labels used on spermaceti candles, and, as noted, he had made a seal at a previous date. Thus Brown’s choice of Hurd, who was also one of the most respected engravers of his time, was based upon these previous experiences and Hurd’s reputation.
The teapots are nearly identical in form, cast elements, and decoration. The horizontal band of broken C scrolls, with raffles and rosettes, follows a pattern seen in the work of several Boston silversmiths, including Thomas Edwards and William Simpkins.5 In these two teapots, subtle disparities appear in the handling of the chased ornament. The earlier teapot dated 1762 has a linear design that gives prominence to elements such as the punched scalloped edge and repousséd rosettes. The teapot fashioned one year later displays an integrated flowing design that allows the eye to meander within a broader field of ornament. These differences reveal divergent approaches to the choice and handling of chasing tools; they may indicate a growing level of proficiency by the same unidentified artist rather than the work of two individuals.
Both teapots show that Burt produced silver that was at the height of fashion. The inverted pear form, with its dynamic rococo engraving and lavishly chased decoration, indicates that Burt closely followed London styles. The masterful integration of these elements demonstrates how the silversmith strove to fashion the best possible work in the most advanced taste for his wealthy patrons.

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

"O=B to A=B" in shaded roman capitals engraved beneath crest on body to right of handle. Engraved on center of body to left of handle with Brown family arms, a chevron between three lion's gambs erect and erased within a bordure, on a chief an eagle displayed. To the right of handle is the Brown family crest, an eagle or girffen head on a torse.

Markings

"BENJAMIN BURT" in a shaped cartouche stamped on bottom of vessel above center point.

Provenance

Funds provided by Providence merchant Obadiah Brown (1712 – 1762), as indicated by the inscription to his daughter Anna Brown (1744 – 1762), although correspondence indicates that her husband, Moses Brown (1738 – 1836), ordered the silver. By descent to his granddaughter Avis Harris (d. 1892). Subsequent history unknown until acquired in the twentieth century by Mark Bortman (1896 – 1967); by descent to his daughter Jane Bortman Larus, the donor.

Credit Line

Gift of Jane Bortman Larus in honor of Mrs. Llora Bortman