Many of the items on display in this gallery were part of a gift from James H. Willcox, Jr.
Opens August 8, 2015
Early English colonists arrived in Virginia with a love of all things silver. A rich display of silver expressed an owner's wealth and power as well as their taste and refinement.
Many of the early residents of Virginia ordered their finest silver from London. After the American Revolution, population growth, a rising tide of prosperity, and the genteel aspirations of an expanding middle class greatly expanded the market for silver. By the first half of the eighteenth century, a growing number of colonists were purchasing quality pieces from skilled silversmiths in Virginia. By the mid-nineteenth century, more than 1,500 silversmiths had set up shop in the commonwealth, some working nearly alone, others as part of large establishments employing many journeymen and apprentices.
Silver is shaped by either pouring molten metal into molds or hammering it into a final shape. After 1800, however, the availability of sheet silver and pre-made parts simplified the process of making containers. By 1820, local silversmiths increasingly became merchants of finished goods crafted in the larger eastern cities. After 1820, silversmiths dealt in finished goods manufactured in large eastern cities, and after 1850, many silversmith shops came to be called jewelry stores.
This exhibition, organized by location, includes not only silver produced in major urban centers, such as Alexandria, Norfolk, and Richmond, but also works crafted in small towns like Leesburg and Petersburg, and it illustrates the variety of craftsmen, styles, and consumers of silver in Virginia during the eighteenth and nineteenth century.
Rare American gold snuffbox marked William Mitchell, Jr. The top of the box has diamonds and a crown. On the bottom of the box in the interior is engraved: To / My Friend / Edward with William Mitchell's stamp. In 1911, the Prince of Wales's plumes were added to the lid, and the box was presented by Edward, Prince of Wales (1894-1972), "To My Friend," who is not identified. Edward became Prince of Wales in 1911, King Edward VIII in January 1936 and Duke of Windsor upon his abdication in December 1936. The inscription inside also reads "11 June 1911" and is signed in script "Edward." One of the duties of the king's private secretary was to accumulate gold and silver boxes, watches, cigar and cigarette cases, and similar items to be given by the royal family as tokens of appreciation to those who performed minor services for them. Somehow, this rare Virginia gold box made its way to England for that purpose.
Silver Hunting Cup (Gift of Frances Roberdeau Wolfe, 1963.25)
This silver cup is engraved with an oak tree in the midst of whose branches is a crown. A crown of similar design appears on either side of the tree. Around the body of the cup is engraved "Arbor honoreture cujus nos umbra teutur," meaning "Honored is the tree whose shade shelters us." The cup dates to the reign of Charles II (1649-1685). After the beheading of his father, Charles I, Charles II was in hiding and at one point sought refuge in a oak tree at Boscobel House. This is the meaning of the crown in the tree and the inscription. The cup has been handed down from generation to generation in the Temple family of King William County.