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Church silver raises the roof at Mass

05 February 2001Written by ATG Reporter

Silverware from Quincy Church US: WHEN the United First Parish Church of Quincy, Mass., established as the Braintree Church in 1639, was forced to choose between keeping a roof overhead or selling ecclesiastical silver so valuable that it was rarely used, the congregation voted to sell the silver.

The 11 pieces, made between 1660 and 1767, were auctioned by Sotheby’s in a separate session on January 19, netting a stunning $3,027,875 (£2.16m) including premium. Members of Boston’s illustrious Adams, Quincy and Tufts clans had donated the pieces to the Church of the Presidents, so called because it is the resting place of the second and the sixth American Presidents, John Adams and his son, John Quincy Adams. The silver is the work of some of America’s earliest and best known craftsmen.

Made c.1660 by John Hull, creator of the earliest surviving piece of New England silver, and Robert Sanderson, Sr., the Richard and Alice Brackett wine cup, pictured right, bottom, sold for $700,000 (£500,000). A record for Colonial silver, the price surpasses the $452,500 paid for a Philadelphia tazza by upstate New York dealer Jonathan Trace in 1998. The anonymous bidder who purchased the wine cup has promised it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. “We have nothing more than a coin or two by Hull and Sanderson,” said Morrison Heckscher, the newly appointed chairman of the Met’s American Wing, “so this fills a great lacuna in our holdings.”

The William Needham cup, also by Hull and Sanderson, was knocked down to an anonymous bidder for $550,000 (£392,860).

A two-handled cup, dated 1685 and made after Hull’s death by Robert Sanderson, Sr., and Robert Sanderson, Jr., fetched $600,000 (£428,570). The cup, shown right, top, is one of only six surviving objects with the combined marks of father and son. It is inscribed to Joanna Yorke, a Braintree Church member who moved to Connecticut.

The United First Parish Church’s decision to sell its silver was criticised by some, who faulted the congregation for not making more of an effort to keep its collection intact. However, all are pleased that the Brackett Cup will be featured in the Met’s forthcoming catalogue of its silver holdings. “The collection hasn’t been published since 1920,” said MMA curator Beth Carver Wees, who is at work on the project.

Seventeenth century American silver rarely comes to market. “There has never been a sale like this. I thought the prices for the great things were very high, but understandable,” said Boston silver dealer David Firestone.

Exchange rate: £1 = $1.4
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