Hot Water Kettle, London, England, c. 1754/5

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Makers: William Shaw II (free from apprenticeship 1748) & William Priest (free from apprenticeship 1749, died between 1802–1811)
Medium: Silver with Wicker Handle
Gift of Mrs. Clifford Hendrix & Mrs. W.P.D Clarke Jr. in 1954

This kettle is one of the finest items in the museum’s extensive silver collection. The piece was made in rococo style in the shop of William Shaw and William Priest of London in 1754/5. London was teeming with premier silversmiths in the mid-18th century. By 1754 the pair had an established shop that made pieces for affluent clients both English and American. For example, they made a 1751/2 coffeepot for the Faneuil family, the wealthiest in Boston at the time, who later gave the popular market Faneuil Hall to the city. The coffee pot is now at Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

While the kettle has the mark of two silversmiths, it is important to understand that many hands went into the creation of any piece that came out of a London shop. The workers who extracted the silver, the craftsmen who wrought it and engraved it, and the merchants who sold it– all had their role to play in the interconnected global trade that sent silver around the British Isles and across the ocean to the colonies. The 1750’s was the height for rococo fashion so this kettle would have been a highly desired item when it was made. The device is very elaborate with repoussé motifs, which means the design was chased and molded from the reverse side. The rococo style reached England with the influx of Huguenot immigrants in the 17th century. The word rococo comes from the French word rocaille meaning shell or rock. The motifs in this style tend to be based on nature, especially marine and floral designs– this kettle is no exception.

On the kettle you can see acanthus leaves, flower garlands, an engraved coat of arms on the left side, and dolphin heads on the feet. The symbolism of the dolphin reaches back to the Mediterranean. To the ancient Greeks, the dolphin symbolized rebirth and renewal; these friendly creatures were also a sign of leadership and companionship—perhaps because of their tendency to swim in distinct groups with one dolphin acting as the pioneering leader. Dolphins were also a Christian symbol as dolphins had the reputation for saving endangered sailors from rough waters and therefore came to represent salvation. Of course, the dolphins we see in the decorative arts are stylized, based on the artistic tenets of the time.

Tea use dramatically increased in the 17th and 18th century when lower costs made it available to a wider audience. Thus the material culture connected to tea saw a boom in this period. Many of these fine pieces still exist today.


By Rachel Lovett, Curator

Hammond-Harwood House

The mission of the Hammond-Harwood House Association is to preserve and to interpret the architecturally significant Hammond-Harwood House Museum and its collection of fine and decorative arts, and to explore the diverse social history associated with its occupants, both free and enslaved, for the purposes of education and appreciation.
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