American Silver Sugar Urn and Cover
Samuel Richards worked as a goldsmith and jeweler between 1793 and 1818 at 136 South Front Street in Philadelphia. Between 1797 and 1802, he was a partner in Samuel Williamson at the same address. Richards made this sugar urn in typical Philadelphia neoclassical style and may have derived his design ideas from the tea sets he is known to have purchased from Joseph and Nathaniel Richardson. The urn strongly resembles the Richardsons’ work (See Acc. No. 81.39), with its square plinth base, flared pedestal, urn-shaped body, pierced and applied gallery, and pineapple finial.1Belden 1980, 354–55; Fales Joseph Richardson and Family, 305. It differs slightly from the Richardson example in being more vertical in form. Both examples have large script initials on the body.
According to family tradition, the bowl was originally owned by Major-General John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg.2DAB, s.v. “John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg.” Although family tradition indicates that General Muhlenberg was the original owner of this sugar urn, the cipher “MM” does not correspond to any members of his immediate family, as his daughter Mary Ann died at the age of twelve. It may, however, represent a conjunction of the Muhlenberg and Meyer initials. For an account of the Muhlenberg children and other Muhlenberg relatives to whom the urn may have belonged, see Hocker, 175–75, 178–83. He served as minister to both Lutheran and Anglican congregations in Pennsylvania and Virginia prior to the Revolution. In 1776, he became a Colonel of the Eighth Battalion, a German-American regiment commanded by German-American officers. In 1777, he was made Brigadier-General in command of the Continental troops in Virginia. He was promoted to Major-General in 1783 and became one of the original members of the Society of the Cincinnati. After the war, Muhlenberg returned to Pennsylvania and served several terms in the United States House of Representatives. A staunch supporter of Thomas Jefferson, he was named Collector of the port of Philadelphia in 1802.
Barbara McLean Ward
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.