5 Days of American Art: “Silver of the 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries”

5 Day Blog Hop

5 Day Blog Hop

Welcome to Day 4 of the 5-Day Blog Hop!  Today we’ll be returning again to the Picturing America Gallery, and looking at another collection of art connected to Paul Revere.  Click to enter the gallery again and hover over picture 2b, “Silver of the 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries.”


Silver has had a role of importance in the history of America.  Over the course of our nation’s establishment and growth, it’s been used for coinage, jewelry, teapots and utensils.  As silver was discovered and mined in different parts of the country, it also affected the wealth of that region and of the United States itself.  Its cost has risen, fallen and risen again; yet it’s always been important as a source (and evidence) of wealth.

Picturing America has included these three tea services as examples of ways artisans have fashioned and designed silver over the years.  Let’s examine each one and see what is discernable about the times they were created and used, and the forms each took.

First, return to the Picturing America page and click on 2.  This will maximize Paul Revere’s teapot, the oldest of the three sets pictured.  Have your children observe the teapot, then ask the following questions:

  • How would you describe this teapot?
  • How is it different from Paul Revere’s other teapot, shown in Copley’s “Paul Revere,” that we viewed yesterday?  Describe the differences between these two.
  • How does this handle differ from the others’ handles?
  • How is the base of Revere’s pot here different from the others’ bases?
  • Does the shape of Revere’s pot remind you of anything?

When you compare the two teapots connected with Revere here; one, which was made around or before the time Copley’s Revere portrait was painted in 1768, and the second pictured in today’s print, produced in 1796, you can see that Revere’s style has undergone a fairly dramatic change.  The first teapot is rounded, very reflective, with a base that seems to flow outward from the bottom of the teapot’s sphere.  (It’s also not engraved, yet with the engraving tools held in Revere’s hand and beside him on the table, it’s likely that the first teapot was going to be.)  Both have wooden handles (probably to keep the handle from burning the pourer of the tea); both have decorative finials (although the finials vary in shape).  Yet, as you compare this earlier teapot with the later one, and notice the difference in their styles, think about what has happened over the course of the 28 years between the creation of the two.  Here, we can see the chicken and the egg question asked in another form again:  Does art influence the culture, or does culture influence art?  Look at these buildings, and see if they remind you of anything about the second teapot’s design (recommended by the Picturing America Teacher’s Guide):

Did you come up with columns?  The birth of the new nation of America coincided with an architectural rebirth of Classical Greek and Roman building design; as the nation was forming its collective soul and vision, this process became visible in the public square as well as the private home.  Neoclassical style was seen on buildings and even on home goods, whether it was the lintels and doorposts of houses or a teapot, as pictured here.  This serene and beautiful design caught the hearts and minds of the architects and designers of our nation, and you can see its effects over 200 years later, in state capitols and other public (and private) buildings.   (Btw, moms, a truly wonderful book about the architecture’s effect on the public mind, and vice versa, is Allan Greenberg’s The Architecture of Democracy.  It is a fascinating, engrossing and informative read.)

The second tea set, chronologically, is found when you click on 4; Thomas William Brown’s 19th Century Tea Service.  Have your children look at this tea set, then ask them the following questions:

  • How does this set differ from Revere’s Neoclassical teapot?
  • How are the handles different?
  • Describe the differences in the way Revere’s pot sits on the table, and the way Brown’s pieces do.  Do you think the design was changed for practical reasons or only decorative ones?
  • What do you imagine that each of the pieces of this tea service were used for?
  • What does a set of four pieces communicate about the wealth of the owner?

Brown’s set (constructed between 1840-1850), contrasted with Revere’s which sits lower to the surface of the table, is taller and more flowing, more graceful.  The pieces include the tall teapot, a sugar bowl, a cream pitcher, and an urn to place used tea leaves in.  The feet of each allow the pieces to sit gracefully on the table, as well as limiting the amount of heat that the silver will transfer to the table tops.  The design also communicates to us that the art of the country has moved on in design from the Neoclassical vision that was so prevalent during the post-Revolutionary War days, as the country grew and developed.

The last set in this print is Gene Theobald’s “Diament” tea service.  Have your children view this piece by clicking on 3.

  • This piece is VERY different than the other two.  How would you describe these differences?
  • What does this set remind you of?
  • If the geometric shapes of the other two tea services were ovals and spheres, what shapes does the “Diament” bring to mind?
  • What might the designer have been trying to communicate?

Some historians have compared this set to skyscrapers or to an ocean liner.  Gene Theobald’s tea service, produced in 1928, was an excellent example of the new design form sweeping Europe and America called Art Deco.  In addition to housewares, Art Deco was also seen in architecture, jewelry, clothing design and graphic design.  This tea service also differed from its predecessors in production; both Revere’s and Brown’s sets were made one by one, heating and shaping silver around molds and by hand.  Theobald was able to take advantage of machine manufacturing and silver-plating, both of which reduced both the cost of production and of sale to the customer.  However, despite the manufacturing differences, in 2011 an authenic Diament tea service sold for between $6,000 and $9,000 at liveauctioneers.com.

Here are some additional fun activities for you to share with your children:

  • Host a tea party for your own family!  Get out your wedding china and crystal, serve tea with scones, finger sandwiches, fruit and sweets.  Try some of the high tea recipes at what’scookingamerica.
  • Visit Paul Revere’s House online to learn about the ways silver was made in his workshop.

Please visit all these links with your children, as I can’t promise that what’s family-friendly today will be tomorrow!

Thanks so much for joining me today for American Art!  Don’t forget to sign up for my Schoolhouse Expo Giveaway, and I hope you’ll come back tomorrow for the last day of our Blog Hop!  And click here to check the next post on the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog’s Blog Hop!

Enjoy!  –Wren

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