John Ward, head of Sotheby’s New York silver department, said it was the piece of American silver that had it all: “Large size, great condition, beautiful design by an idiosyncratic maker, fresh provenance, and a great story.”
The toast of this year's Americana Week in New York was the
spectacular $5.2m (£3.33m) achieved at Sotheby's on January 23 for
a New York silver punch bowl c.1700-1710, marked three times for
the third-generation Dutch-American Cornelius Kierstede
(1674-c.1757). At 66oz and 121/4in (32cm) diameter - 171/4in (44cm)
when measuring across the sculptural dolphin handles - it is
probably the largest surviving piece of early 18th century American
silver. And, it only came to light last year in England.
The original owner of such a massive and valuable piece could
only have been a member of the wealthiest levels of Dutch society
in New York City or nearby Albany. The list is not a long one and a
number of candidates have been suggested, including Colonel Abraham
de Peyster, Mayor of New York (1692-94), whose will, probated in
1734, lists a large silver punch bowl of a weight to match this
However, it is symptomatic of the shift of wealth in New York
society at the turn of the 18th century (by 1720 most of New York's
wealthiest residents were English) that relatively early in its
life the bowl was owned by Commodore Joshua Loring (1716-81) and
his wife Mary Curtis (1720-1789/90). Their stately home in Jamaica
Plain, Massachusetts, the Loring-Greenough House, has been
preserved as an historic site.
A Loyalist with no stomach for revolution, Loring abandoned his
residence in August 1774 to take refuge in Boston, and the family
emigrated to London in 1776.
The most tangible evidence of their considerable wealth came
This bowl is accompanied by two 19th century documents,
including the revealing note: "Silver bowl belonged to Joshua
Loring and was buried in a well during the War of American
Independence (the Loring family was then living in America) and
brought up when it was over."
But, although in England since 1776, the discovery only came to
light when - following an introduction by a colleague in the
paintings department - Sotheby's London-based silver specialists
Cynthia Harris and Harry Charteris were shown a grainy black and
white photograph in March last year. They were invited to inspect
the bowl in a London bank vault.
The 230 years away from its native shores had added only a
subtle patina to the playful repoussé detail that epitomises the
New York Dutch style.
The most comparable piece from Cornelius Kierstede's body of
work is the two-handled 'brandywine' bowl in the Metropolitan
Museum of Art made for Theunis Jacobsen Quick, a prominent New York
baker. However, at under 26oz this bowl - previously considered the
largest piece of early 18th century American silver - is less than
half the weight of the new discovery.
Sotheby's New York specialists were given the task of coming up
with a valuation and plumped for $400,000-800,000, a figure that
delighted the vendor but anticipated a new record for American
silver to surpass the premium-inclusive $775,750 achieved for a
Boston communion cup by John Hull and Robert Sanderson c.1660 from
the Church of the Presidents, Quincy, Massachusetts at Sotheby's
New York in 2001.
In the event, the record was smashed.
Auctioneer David Redden opened the bidding at $275,000 and
almost instantly a bid of $500,000 was called out by Ian Irving of
Ian Irving Ltd. As many as six different bidders raised their
paddles, but at around $3m the battle was reduced to two determined
clients, an anonymous gentleman seated in the room and New York
dealer S.J. Shrubsole. The competition continued for several
minutes before the winning bid was cast by the anonymous purchaser
in the room, the gavel coming down to rousing applause.
The price is the second highest for any piece of silver sold at
auction. It is surpassed only by the Louis XV tureen and stand made
by Thomas Germain, Paris, 1733-34 sold for a premium-inclusive
$10,287,500 at Sotheby's, New York in November 1996.
By Roland Arkell
The buyer's premium at Sotheby's is 25/20/12%