Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State

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Object Details

Samuel Vernon (American, 1683-1737)
ca. 1710
United States: Rhode Island: Newport
North American
metal; silver
Overall: 1 11/16 in x 4 7/8 in; 4.28625 cm x 12.3825 cm
By descent in the Wolcott and Merchant families; to the donors
In block letters on the handle, "H+H." In block letters within a heart-shaped reserve, in the rim to the immediate left of handle, "SV;" scratch weight on the bottom "5-3."
Credit Line
Gift of The Honorable Livingston Merchant and Mrs. Merchant in memory of their daughter, Elizabeth Merchant Tyson
The Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.
Accession Number

Object Essay

One of the most popular forms made in America, the porringer was a multi-purpose bowl that could be used for chocolate, milk, soups, cereals, or stews. Many porringers are engraved with the initials of their owner or owners; here the initials “H+H” imply that this porringer was the property of one individual, perhaps a gift at birth.        

By the time this porringer was made, the form had been standardized to include a domed bottom, a convex shallow bowl with a narrow vertical or slightly everted rim, and a single, flat cast handle with geometric piercing. This handle on this example, with shaped rectangles and half circles, is an English type frequently chosen by Boston silversmiths. Three similar porringers by Samuel Vernon (the Yale University Art Gallery, Winterthur, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) employ another popular combination, three quatrefoils.1The three porringers include one at the Yale University Art Gallery, in which the handle casting has been finished with the double-arched opening and two circular piercings filed down (see Buhler and Hood, 1:270–271); one at Winterthur (see Fales 1958, no. 55); and one at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, which is an example of a complete casting with a double-arched opening flanked by two circular piercings (Buhler 1972, 2: 55). Winterthur has another Vernon porringer, with a handle design that employs two quatrefoils, shaped ovals, rectangles with incurring sides, and a double-arched opening at the juncture with the bowl (Fales 1958, no. 58), providing further evidence that Vernon had several different patterns for porringer handles of this type. Vernon also made porringers with keyhole handles, so called because of the central teardrop-shaped opening, and was one of the earliest New England silversmiths to produce, what, by mid-century, would be the standard style.2Seven porringers with the earlier form of keyhole handle were formerly in the collection of Cornelius Moore. Spokas et al., 47–49.

Vernon had two sons, Samuel, Jr., (1711–1792) and Daniel (b. 1716), by his first wife, Elizabeth (Fleet) Vernon. Samuel, Jr., is recorded as a goldsmith.3Buhler 1979, 79. Daniel is known to have been working as a silversmith in 1733, but between 1781 and 1812 he is recorded as Newport’s elected corder of firewood. Three years after his first wife’s death in 1722, Samuel Vernon married Elizabeth Paine of Bristol, who survived him by many years.4Flynt and Fales, 347.

Barbara McLean Ward and Jennifer F. Goldsborough

Excerpted from Clement E. Conger, et al. Treasures of State: Fine and Decorative Arts in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the U.S. Department of State. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1991.