INSCRIPTION: Engraved in a cartouche on the side of the body: “South Western / Agricultural and / Mechanical Association / Louisville Kentucky / 1858.” The goblet was an agricultural fair premium presented at the 1858 South Western Agricultural and Mechanical Association fair held in Louisville, Kentucky.
MARK: Struck with incuse “J KITTS” and “K & P” marks on underside of body.
MAKER: John Kitts (b.1805) was active in Louisville, Kentucky from 1836 until 1878 as a retailer of jewelry and silver goods. He was active on his own and in many Louisville partnerships (Scott & Kitts; Smith & Kitts; Kitts & Stoy; John Kitts & Co.; Kitts & Werne). The 1860 census for Louisville listed John Kitts, watchmakers, age 55, native of Kentucky, with $5000 in assets. Also listed at the same located were S.W. Warriner, age 42 clerk, and Joseph Werne, age 23, jeweler. It would seem that these three men were John Kitts & Co. listed in the 1859 city directory. Over the years John Kitts produced many premiums and cups for agricultural and mechanical fairs as well as racing trophies. See Marquis Boultinghouse, “Silversmiths, Jewelers, Clock and Watch Makers of Kentucky, 1785-1900” (Lexington, KY: Boultinghouse, 1980).
FORM: Agricultural fair prizes, or premiums, were often engraved silver pitchers, goblets, cups, and beakers rather than cash money. The silver premiums, it was hoped, would become treasured family mementos and foster continued innovation in farming communities because agricultural experimentation and adaptation were paramount to the success of American farmers of the nineteenth century. During that period, as lands in the American Deep South, Midwest and Far West were settled, the unique soils and unfamiliar climates of those new regions required experimentation with crops, farming practices, and tools in order to establish a thriving agricultural economy. Agricultural and mechanical societies fostered and encouraged such innovations. By the 1850s, considered the golden age of the movement, there were nearly 1,000 agricultural and mechanical societies in America. The Civil War severely curtailed their growth, especially in the South, and by the late nineteenth century nearly all privately operated agricultural and mechanical societies had ceased to function. By the final decades of the nineteenth century the encouragement of agricultural innovation largely became a role for governmental agencies, many of which began to sponsor state and county fairs similar to those still operated today. See Gary Albert, “Of Troughs and Trophies: A Collection of Silver Agricultural Premiums,” The Magazine ANTIQUES, May/June 2017, 110-117.