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: Paul Revere Silver Exhibited


Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Whenever the name of Paul Revere is mentioned it is certain to suggest his historic ride and the stanzas of Longfellow's poem, of which everyone remembers the opening lines but probably little more. The vivid and romantic episode is the one incident of his life that keeps his name alive and it is almost certain that without Longfellow's elaboration of it, even this would be forgotten. Upon examination, the story as told in the poem is found to differ considerably from the fact of history and Revere, himself, not always the gallant hero that we are in the habit of considering him. He was, in reality, a thrifty business man, restive, pugnacious but of such undisciplined temperament that in the closing years of the Revolution, though he had proved himself loyal and patriotic many times, he was court-martialed for cowardice and disobedience.But we are not concerned with Revere in this role. Our present interest grows out of the fact that among his many activities he was at one time a silversmith and that he made superb silverware for the rich Colonists in Boston. Among them was a young man, John Templeman, who married in 1797 and went to live in Georgetown, Virginia, taking with him, as part of his wedding outfit, the tea set which is now on exhibition at the Institute. It is a loan from a collector who wishes to remain anonymous. Passing into the hands of the descendents of John Templeman, part of the set found its way to Montana while other pieces remained in Baltimore. Last winter it was learned that these pieces were available and negotiations were made by a Minneapolis collector to secure them, as well as the pieces from the same set that were in Baltimore. All were eventually secured and are now reassembled for the first time in many years. Under the date of April 7, 1797, in Paul Revere's ledger, still preserved and in the possession of his descendents, appears the carefully prepared list, in Revere's own hand, of pieces made for John Templeman. The cost of making and engraving are recorded separately and in great detail.The set consists of an oval-shaped teapot, a tea-caddy of the same shape as the teapot but with lock and key, as tea at this time was costly and therefore carefully guarded, a helmet-shaped cream jug and a large urn-shaped sugar bowl. Not actually part of this set but also made by Paul Revere for John Templeman about this time, and exhibited with the tea set, is a punch strainer, pierced with floral design and provided with two scrolled handles so that it could rest across the top of a wide-mouthed vessel or across a punch bowl. Surely Revere never made finer pieces than these, which in their beauty and simplicity epitomize the best taste of their time. In the Boston Museum and in the Clearwater Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art are similar pieces but complete sets such as this one, are very rare.Paul Revere's father was a silversmith. When he came to this country he changed his name from Apollos Rivoire to Paul Revere for the convenience of his English speaking neighbors. Paul Revere, Junior, entered his studies at the North Grammar School in Boston and having natural talent for drawing soon acquired skill as an engraver on silver. As he liked this part of the work better than actually making the articles in silver, he pursued it and taught himself the art of engraving on copper. These were stirring political times and as newspaper illustrations were as yet unknown, he found a ready market for the anti-British caricatures which he made of the events that were taking place, which he sold (he always had a good eye for business) to the loyal Colonists who were resentful of the oppressive measure which England was imposing. When Revere was nineteen his father dies and left him to carry on the business alone. Besides being an engraver and silversmith at this time, Revere was also a dentist, as appears in the following advertisement:"Artificial Teeth
Paul Revere
Takes this Method of returning his most Sincere Thanks to the Gentlemen and Ladies who have Employed him in the care of their Teeth. He would now inform them and all others, who are do unfortunate as to lose their Teeth by accident or otherways, that he still continue the Business of a Dentist, and flatters himself that from the Experience he has had these two years (in which time he has fixed some Hundreds of Teeth) that he can fix them as well as any Surgeon-Dentist who ever came from London. He fixes them in such a Manner that they are not only an Ornament, but of real Use in Speaking and Eating. He cleanses the Teeth and will wait on any Gentleman or Lady at their Lodgings. He may be spoke with at his Shop opposite Dr. Clark's at the North End where the Gold and Silversmith's Business is carried on in all its Branches."There are many other records that reveal Paul Revere as an enterprising, practical and energetic character, and one whose loyalty to the cause of the colonies was tremendous. It has not been until recent years, however, that his importance as a silversmith has been recognized. He was, in fact, a master craftsman, and in the silver that he has left us, reflects the refinement of taste found in no other field of Colonial activity except that of architecture.Doubtless there was a great deal of silver in the homes of the well-to-do Colonists, partly owing to the fact that there were no banks in which to keep the large sums of money that came from shipping and slave-trading enterprises. Those who were fortunate enough, therefore, to have Spanish gold and silver coins, the form in which payment was usually made, would usually have this melted and made up into pieces of domestic silverware, massive tankards, beakers, mugs, porringers and even sauce pans which they could use in their homes. Just before the Revolution the amount of silver must have been very large but the need of money to maintain the Colonial army caused much of it to be dumped into the melting pot again, just as the need for the bullets caused the melting down of pewter vessels. Because these pieces were made by a famous patriot and because of the important part which silver played in the life of our Colonial forebears, this tea set is of greatest interest and is certain to appeal to visitors as much through its historic association as through the inherent beauty of the pieces themselves.Referenced Works of Art
  1. Silver sugar bowl from a set made by Paul Revere, the Boston Patriot in 1797 for John Templeman, now exhibited as a loan
  2. Cream-Jug, Tea-Pot and Sugar Bowl made by Paul Revere. These pieces, together with a Tea-Caddy, not illustrated, form one of the few complete Revere sets that exist.
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Source: "Paul Revere Silver Exhibited," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 15, no. 33 (December, 1926): 174-176.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009