Paul Revere II learned the art of silversmithing in his father's workshop. After his father's death in 1754, he was permitted to carry on the trade.1
Luxury goods were not in high demand during the Seven Years' War with the French, 1756-63, and the years that followed. As a result, in 1765 Revere's estate was attached for a debt of over ten pounds sterling. Obliged to find other means of earning a living, he turned his skills as an engraver to printmaking. Over the next 30 years, he made plates and engraved portraits, illustrations, bookplates, calling cards, cartoons, and even printed paper money for the Provincial Congress. He also practiced dentistry, specializing in making false teeth.
Beginning in 1760, Revere allied himself with revolutionary forces opposed to the British. When political tension mounted in 1773, Revere was one of the five Bostonians chosen by his associates to seek the backing of the Sons of Liberty elsewhere. He traveled to New York and Philadelphia and brought back encouraging reports. On April 19, 1775, he rode to Lexington to warn the country that the British were coming. It was this ride that was later celebrated by the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
During the Revolutionary War, Revere would have received few commissions as a silversmith even if he had not been engaged in government service. From 1775 until May of 1780, Revere served as a Lieutenant Colonel of an artillery regiment. His achievements at this time included setting up a powder mill and casting cannon for the Continental Army. When his commission expired, Revere had intended to abandon silversmithing and go into trade. However, the government owed him considerable money for the cannon he had cast so he decided to continue silversmithing until he had better opportunities.
From a letter written to his cousin in the 1780s, we learn that Revere considered himself "in middling circumstances and very well off for a tradesman . . . ." Aside from silversmithing, he also dealt in imported clothing, paper, pencils, and large quantities of Sheffield plate. In 1792, he began a foundry for casting bells (which had previously been imported from England) and parts for ships. He did well with these ventures and, in 1800, moved to a grander house. The same year, he set up the first rolling mill for sheet copper in America. Both the frigate "Constitution" and the dome of the Massachusetts State House were sheathed with his rolled copper.
By this time, Revere had stopped doing silversmithing. The last piece to bear his mark was in 1806. Revere died on May 10, 1818.
REVERE AS A SILVERSMITH
Revere made all the standard silverware of the day, both for religious and domestic use: sauceboats, tankards and flagons, punch bowls, cream pots, casters, salts, porringers, christening cups and church cups, teas services and coffee urns. Revere's patrons for spoons perhaps outnumbered all others, and many of these spoons still exist today. Buckles were the next most numerous item, but few have survived.
The first commission we know of was a church cup based on a 17th-century French model.2 Other objects produced by Revere ranged from silver and gold picture frames for the painter Copley (who painted his portrait in 1765) to tortoise shell buttons, spectacle frames and mourning rings, and silver spatulas, probes, and "surgin's instruments" for doctors. Since Revere kept detailed daybooks which recorded the commercial transactions he undertook, it is possible to document many of his products with the name of the client for whom they were made. For example, it is known that other silversmiths like Nathaniel Hurd commissioned works from him.
Before the Revolutionary War, Revere worked in the unornamented early Georgian style which was popular in Boston until the 1770s. A preference for plainness characterized most of his work, but he could produce more elaborate pieces when requested by a patron. When he returned to silversmithing in 1780, Revere's workshop began to produce pieces in the neo-classical style, and the Templeman tea service is a fine example of his work in this manner.
It is difficult to ascertain how much Revere contributed to the works made in the last two or three decades of his life and to what degree his employees were responsible for the elegance of their design and the refinement of their craftsmanship. Revere's stated preference for "trade" and his interest in so many other concerns suggests that he probably had little time to work with the silversmith's hammer and graver. And there can be little doubt that the fortune he left - $30,000 (an average laborer in 1797 earned $1.00 for a 10 hour workday) - was derived less from his work as a silversmith than from his other enterprises.
The Importance of Tea
Tea was the social beverage of the 18th century. Serving it was a sign of politeness and hospitality, and the custom of drinking tea brought with it distinctive manners and specific equipment. By 1792, tea was no longer restricted only to the upper classes, however, tea services such as this one were certainly exclusively possessions of the upper classes. Great pride was taken in a proper and fashionable tea table. A matching service in silver such as this would have been a mark of high prestige.3
Matched tea sets were not common in the last quarter of the 18th century. Instead, people usually assembled the individual pieces they needed for the service of tea. But with the founding of the Republic and the introduction of new types of furniture, such as the sideboard, matched sets became desirable both as a means of adornment and as a symbol of gracious living. Revere is known to have made some 50 teapots, but of these only six were accompanied by a matching cream jug and sugar bowl; and of these six, only one dates before 1790. The Templeman set is, therefore, among the earliest examples of the matched tea set.
THE TEMPLEMAN TEA SERVICE
The tea service is part of a substantial order of domestic silver placed with the Revere workshop in 1792 and 1793 by John Templeman, a resident of Boston and, later, of Georgetown, Maryland. A broker and dentist, John Templeman married Mehitable (Bacon) Lawless, widow of John Lawless, in 1783. In Revere's account book for 1792 is found an entry on April 17 for the following:
- the teapot and stand
- the cream jug
- the sugar bowl
- the tea caddy
- the tea shell
- 18 teaspoons (only one known today)
- a punch strainer (whereabouts unknown)
The stand for the tea caddy, made in 1793, was more decorative than utilitarian. The sugar tongs were made at a later date. The punch strainer included here was made by Revere, but not for the Templeman service.
Not only is this rare set one of Revere's earliest, it is also the most complete:
- There is only one other recorded Revere tea caddy.
- This is the only recorded tea shell and perhaps the only American one known.
- The tea caddy still has its original key.
It is interesting to note that, while not part of the tea service per se, Revere only made six other punch strainers; this was the last recorded.
Following their marriage, the Templemans moved to Virginia, taking the set with them. It later passed into the hands of their descendants, part of it going to Montana and the remainder to Baltimore. Mr. and Mrs. James Ford Bell had the good fortune to acquire both the Montana pieces and the Baltimore pieces, bringing together for the first time in many years the unique matched tea set.
The set is made of coin silver, silver melted down from coins and, therefore, slightly less pure than sterling.4 Pieces made of coin silver are generally thinner and lighter in weight. The fluted shape gives these pieces added structural strength. Contrary to earlier information, while the first settlers in America may have used their silver objects as portable wealth, this would not have been the case by the 18th century. Often the silversmith's fee equaled or surpassed the value of the silver content; only dire necessity would, thus, have made melting a piece worthwhile. It is more likely that someone needing money would have left a piece intact and merely pawned it for what value it would bring.
The pieces in this set are formed from rolled sheet silver. Rolled sheet metal was a time and money saving innovation. Sheet silver was particularly suitable for fashioning the thin, fluted walls of these objects. The finials and feet are the only cast ornaments. The floral and drapery motifs which form the major part of the decoration are achieved through bright-cutting, a method of engraving executed by a series of shallow gouges. This was particularly desirable on pieces made of thin sheets of silver because it did not weaken the structure of the walls. The tasseled drapery was a favorite motif of Revere's. Circular and oval medallions on the stands and the sugar bowl enclose the combined Templeman initials, "JMT," which have been engraved in a script monogram.
The Templeman tea set is fashioned in the Federal style, a style which was part of the classical revival in the United States.5
Classical influences are evident in the following features:
- the fluted pattern of the service is reminiscent of the fluted columns of classical architecture.
- the popular helmet-shape of the cream jug is derived from the shape of Roman helmets.
- the shape of the sugar bowl is taken directly from a classical urn.
- the swags and tassels.
Like the furniture of the period, the forms are simple, stable, and elegant, with a concern for balance and proper proportion.
Use on the following tours:
- American Art
Emphasize that this was made by an American craftsman in coin silver (not sterling) but in a style adopted by the artist from England. Compare this combination of European influences with an emerging American tradition in art to paintings and sculpture in the American collection.
- Classics and Classical Influence
Discuss the tremendous influence of the classical past on the New Republic and compare the classical references seen here to those on other American pieces, such as Sully's Portrait of George Washington and the architecture in the Charleston Rooms.
- Highlights of the Collection
With a focus on patronage, discuss how the patron affects the style and taste of art objects.
- Decorative Arts
- People and Places
- How Was it Made?
Contrast the use of rolled sheet silver to raised silver found in other pieces, such as the Sutherland wine cistern or a Queen Anne teapot, if one is out.
- Mrs. Allen (Mrs. Nathaniel Allen, J. S. Copley) might have used such a tea service. This might lead to a discussion of how people settling in the New World brought with them the traditions of their homeland - architecture, tea drinking, portraiture, lifestyle, clothing, etc.
- Owning a silver service like this was a status symbol. Compare this to other status symbols in our collection. What are some status symbols in our culture for adults? for children? for teenagers?
- People of all areas of the globe consume food and beverages, not only for nutritional reasons, but for social and ceremonial purposes. As such, certain implements are developed for their preparation and consumption. Compare the social use of the Revere set to the ceremonial use of the feast ladle made by the Seneca peoples or ceramics of the Southwest. On a Highlights tour, you may want to compare Shang kuei or Kaba ceramics.
- By Boston regulation, an artisan was required to be 21 years of age and to have served a seven-year apprenticeship before being allowed to establish his own shop. The exception was the provision that an apprentice might continue his deceased master's shop for the widow.
- Throughout his career, Revere often looked to existing samples for his designs, adapting his designs from English and Chinese export porcelain pieces and borrowing from other silversmiths.
- See the article by Rodris Roth of the Smithsonian Institution, "Tea Drinking in 18th Century America: Its Etiquette and Equipage," in the docent study file.
- 892 parts pure silver was the standard set for coinage in 1792 by the U.S. Mint as opposed to 925 parts for sterling. Remember, however, that America never maintained the English sterling standard on any formalized basis.
- This same revival was also popular in England, where most silver patterns still originated.