One from a Pair of American Silver Sauceboats
In Boston, the tankard form developed along English lines but with the adoption of certain types of ornament not commonly found on English tankards: mid-bands, finials, and figural handle terminals. The iconography of these figural terminals suggests that tankards may have been presented to young churchgoers as a token of their divine election and entrance into the communion of the church, to young men as a symbol of their entrance into adulthood, and as marriage gifts.1Hurd made several tankards for New England Congregational churches for use in the communion service. One example, in the collection of the First Church of Christ in Deerfield, Mass., is nearly identical to this one. For more on the use of tankards in the communion service, see Ward 1988, 1–24; Flynt and Fales, 47–48. Beer and ale, the drinks most often associated with tankards, were also thought to encourage lactation, and a tankard was considered a fitting gift for a woman on the birth of her first child. The cast decoration of a warrior’s head on the handle terminal of this tankard, possibly symbolizing manhood or some heroic deed, is found on many other tankards by Jacob Hurd and may have been his own design. By 1750 most tankards were made with plain handle terminals, suggesting that the form continued to be popular because it symbolized tradition, family, and position.2Ward 1983, 261.
Hurd was by far the most prolific and prominent of Boston’s silversmiths in the 1740s. He received many of the most important commissions for public presentation objects and was the favorite silversmith of Boston’s elite. Unlike other craftsmen of his generation, Hurd did not diversify his business, but devoted all of his energies to silversmithing.3French, 3–27, 57–66, 143–46. The large volume of his business and the runaway inflation in Boston in the 1740s, eventually caused his financial ruin. Forced to borrow in order to buy metal, Hurd sometimes paid interest rates of 30 percent and higher. By the time he moved to Roxbury in 1755, he was nearly bankrupt, and his financial situation had so deteriorated that he was asked to give security to the town selectmen against his becoming a public charge. When he died, in 1758—“much lamented,” according to the Boston Gazette—his estate was insolvent.4Ward 1989, 72–76; French, 3–13. In the Boston court records there is a deposition that helps to explain Hurd’s predicament. In 1743 Hurd had borrowed “Gold Dust and Silver and Paper” from one Benjamin Bourne at 30 percent interest. When Bourne came to collect, however, Hurd calculated that he was being charged 34 percent interest. Bourne, aware of the high rate of inflation, had tied his interest rate to the price of molasses so that it would keep up with rising costs. Hurd protested that he could not pay Bourne the total debt right away but could only pay the “Least Note which was for 476:18:0 old Tenor,” because if he paid both notes he would not be able to pay for “a Large Quantity of Silver which he had bargain’d for.” Hurd was, therefore, forced to sign a new note, again at the rate of 34 percent interest. See Series, Commonwealth of Massachusetts Archives, Boston, Mass.
In spite of these financial difficulties, Hurd still stands as the most important Boston silversmith of his generation. His shop turned out the town’s most sophisticated objects in the Queen Anne and baroque styles (see also Acc. No. 71.124.74a). The shop’s accomplished specialists, including engravers, chasers, burnishers, and turners, also performed work for other firms, thus influencing the look of all Boston silver made during this period.5On the importance of the engravers in the Hurd shop, including Jacob’s talented son Nathaniel, see Ward 1983, 245–335. On the shop performing services for smaller firms, see Greene, 47 and 48. A resoldered thumbpiece accounts for the difference between the original weight scratched underneath the base (“27 oz. 6 dwt./ £12–5–6”) and the present weight of the object. The initials engraved on the front, “IP” remain unidentified.
Barbara McLean Ward and Jennifer F. Goldsborough
Excerpted from Jonathan L. Fairbanks. Becoming a Nation: Americana from the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State. New York: Rizzoli, 2003.