This tall, elegant, and richly ornamented water pitcher reflects Baltimore’s repoussé style of the early 1830s, which emerged under the guiding spirits of Samuel Kirk and his competitor, Andrew Ellicott Warner (1786–1870). It also exemplifies the eclecticism of midcentury Baltimore silver, which combines rococo, neoclassical, and late seventeenth-century high-baroque English silver design elements.
Samuel Kirk and his successors employed this form of pitcher hundreds of times between about 1820 and the mid-twentieth century. It was one of his most popular and influential designs. The rectangular handle with a mask terminal was peculiar to Baltimore. The basic form is also sometimes found with more conventional, tall, C-scroll handles.1See Goldsborough 1983, 148, 151, and 153, for four similar water pitchers. Since all the repoussé ornamentation was done by hand, these pitchers could easily be individualized in design and decoration for custom orders. Fantastic, miniature chinoiserie buildings and landscapes issuing from large flowers and scrolls were a favorite Baltimore motif of the 1840s and appear from time to time throughout the century.
Kirk was born in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and apprenticed under James Howell of Philadelphia. His father was not a practicing silversmith, but both he and his wife descended from generations of well-known English silversmiths of the Kirk and Child families. Throughout his long career, Kirk had an uncanny understanding of previous styles of silver, as well as a thorough knowledge of what was being made of silver internationally. Kirk’s earliest work is in the Philadelphia Empire style. Perhaps the originator and certainly the disseminator of the ornate Baltimore repoussé style, Kirk was world famous for his brilliance as a designer, his eagerness to adopt technical and artistic innovations, and his genius as a promoter.
Baltimore repoussé silver had an enormous influence on other great American silver firms, such as Gorham Manufacturing Company, Tiffany & Co., and Reed and Barton. Repoussé silver continued to be demanded in Maryland and the rest of the South until World War II; Kirk also made handsome silver in a wide variety of other styles when he had the opportunity.
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.