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Coffee Service

Kirk, Samuel & Son
Place Made:
Baltimore Maryland United States of America
Date Made:
Coffeepot: HOA: 13″, WOA: 10″; Cream Pitcher: HOA: 7″, WOA: 5″; Sugar Bowl: HOA: 7-1/2″, WOA: 9″
Accession Number:
DESCRIPTION: Three-piece silver coffee service consisting of a coffeepot, covered sugar bowl, and cream pitcher. With the exception of the central cartouches, the bodies of all three elements are completely covered with repousse ornament of floral designs. The coffeepot features a tall bulbous body with a domed hinged lid topped by a cast reclining stag finial lid afixed with a bolt and screw. The large silver C-scroll handle is covered with stylized acanthus leaves and attached to the body at top and bottom with silver sockets and ivory insulators. The spout is also covered with stylized acanthus leaves. A rectangular base with serpentine-shaped edges and pierced, floral repousse ornament is applied directly to the bottom of the body.

The cream pitcher has a tall wide spout attached to the body. Opposite the spout, an S-scroll handle covered in stylized acanthus leaves rises above the rim and rejoins near the center of the body. Below a swelled pedestal, which is applied to the bottom of the body, the rectangular base has serpentine-shaped edges and pierced, floral repousse ornament.

With an unattached domed lid featuring floral repousse decoration and a cast reclining stag finial attached with bolt and screw, the sugar bowl has two applied S-scroll handles decorated with stylized acanthus leaves and a short swelled pedestal, which is applied to the bottom of the body, and a rectangular base with serpentine-shaped edges and pierced, floral repousse ornament.

The dragon-and-feather ornament in the cartouche on the coffeepot (the only piece in the service to include the monogram “GNG” in the cartouch) matches that on the 1850 Guest family butter cooler (MESDA Acc. 5540.4). The engravings on the coffeepot and butter cooler were created by a different artist than the one who worked on the cream pitcher and sugar bowl, which match one another. This detail, along with the later “S.KIRK & SONS” mark on the cream pitcher, suggest that the coffepot was purchased with the butter cooler in 1850 and the cream pitcher and sugar bowl were purchased together between 1861 and 1868.

INSCRIPTION: Each element of the coffee service is engraved in their central cartouches with a dragon with a cross on its chest and a feather to each side. The coffeepot’s cartouche includes the script initials “GNG” for George Guest (1806-1879) and his second wife Honora (Nora) Bankhead Guest (1820-1856).

MARK: Coffeepot struck on bottom of base with intaglio “S.KIRK & SON” and “11 oz” marks in rectangular reserves; cream pitcher struck on bottom of base with incuse “S.KIRK & SON” and “11 oz” marks; sugar bowl struck on bottom of base with incuse “S.KIRK & SON” and “11 oz” marks as well as an intaglio “11 oz” mark in a rectangular reserve. Baltimore was the only American city to establish an assayer’s office to ensure the purity of silver sold by local smiths. Established in 1814 under the Silver Purity Act, the Baltimore assay office is the nearest any early American community came to creating a guild system similar to those found in Britain and Europe. The assay office marks from 1814 to 1830 follow provisions set forward by the act and include the state of Maryland’s shield of arms, a date letter, and a mark for the city’s assayer. There were three men whom served as official assayers: Thomas Warner, from 1814 to 1823; LeRoy Atkinson from 1824-1829; and Samuel Steele from 1830 to 1843. The Silver Purity Act of 1814 was amended in 1830, removing the compulsory assaying of silver produced by Baltimore’s silversmiths but required silver not assayed by the office to bear a numerical quality mark that indicated the amount of silver contained per troy pound of twelve ounces (i.e., “11/12” or “11OZ” for 11 ounces of pure silver to 1 ounce alloy metal, or 91.66% silver; another common quality mark is “10.15” for 10 ounces 15 pennyweight silver to 1 ounce and 5 pennyweight of alloy metal, or 89.6% silver). See Jennifer Faulds Goldsborough, “Silver in Maryland” (Baltimore, MD: Maryland Historical Society, 1983), 26-37.

MAKER: In 1846 Henry Child Kirk (1827-1914) joined his father Samuel Kirk (1793-1872) to form the partnership Samuel Kirk & Son. Fifteen years later, in 1861, two other sons (Charles Douglas Kirk [1840-1880] and Edwin Clarence Kirk [1842-1876]) joined to form Samuel Kirk & Sons. The firm reverted to the singular Samuel Kirk & Son after 1868. Silver produced by Kirk is best known for its extensive use of repousse, which had fallen out of fashion in America with the arrival of neoclassical style in the 1790s. Kirk’s revival of repousse was so innovative, both stylistically and technically, that it set the style for fine silver all over the United States in the mid-nineteenth century. The firm Samuel Kirk & Sons remained in operation through the mid twentieth century, eventually being purchased by the Stieff Company in 1979 and branded as Kirk-Steiff. Ten years later Kirk-Stieff was purchased by the Lenox division of the Brown-Forman Corporation, which also acquired the noteworthy silver brands Gorham, Whiting, and Durgin. In 2007 Lenox sold its silver holdings to Lifetime Brands, Inc., which produces silver flatware under brand names including Kirk Stieff. See Jacob Hall Pleasants and Howard Sill, “Maryland Silversmiths, 1715-1830” (Baltimore, MD: Lord Baltimore Press, 1930), Jennifer Faulds Goldsborough, “Silver in Maryland” (Baltimore, MD: Maryland Historical Society, 1983) and Scott Perkins, “The Stieff Company,” online: (accessed 5 July 2017).

FORM: For most of the eighteenth century the accouterments for tea and coffee were acquired separately and did not necessarily match in style and shape. By the 1790s, all elements of a tea service (coffeepot, teapot, sugar bowl, waste bowl, and cream pitcher) were made somewhat uniformly in style, with the smaller pieces following the form of the coffee and teapots. In the eighteenth century, coffeepots were taller than teapots for two reasons: function and economics. They are taller in order to raise the spout higher from the bottom to prevent the coffee grounds (which sink to the bottom) from being poured into teacups or bowls; conversely, tea leaves float and are less likely to flow out the spout when tea is poured. This difference in coffee/tea pot heights carried forward into the nineteenth century as tradition even after strainers and other means for preventing coffee grounds from pouring out the spout were made popular. The second factor, economics, was driven by the expense of tea in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Tea was so expensive that only a small amount would be brewed at a time to prevent waste. In 1662 London, a pound of coffee cost between 4 and 7 shillings; around 1680 a pound of tea cost 11 to 12 shillings. The price of tea continued in the eighteenth century to rise higher than the price of coffee. See Wolfgang Schivelbusch, “Tastes of Paradise: A Social History of Spices, Stimulants, and Intoxicants” (New York: Pantheon Books, 1992), 83; Jane Pettigrew, “A Social History of Tea” (London: The National Trust, 2001), 140; and William H. Ukers, “The Romance of Tea: An Outline History of Tea and Tea-Drinking Through Sixteen Hundred Years” (London and New York: Knopf, 1936), 226, 226. All things considered, however, Charles Montgomery wrote an insightful summary of why we cannot be certain why coffeepots are larger than teapots in his book “A History of American Pewter” (New York: Knopf, 1936), 182-183.

This coffee service was first owned by and engraved for London-born merchant George Guest (1806-1879) and his second wife Honora (Nora) Bankhead Guest (1820-1856), daughter of Brig. Gen. James Monroe Bankhead (1783-1856) of Caroline Co., Virginia and Irish-born Ann Smith Pyne (1799-1856). The couple were married in 1848 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Guests lived in Baltimore and had two sons. Five years after Nora Bankhead Guest’s 1856 death, George married another woman from Virginia’s Northern Neck; this time Mary Elizabeth Bernard (1824-1895), daughter of John Hipkins Bernard (1792-1858) and Jane Gay Robertson (1795-1852) of “Gay Mont” in Port Royal. The couple had two children survive to adulthood: Bernard Robertson Guest (1864-1948) and Frank Barksdale Guest (1867-1926). The coffee service and his mother’s Kirk butter cooler (MESDA Acc. 5540.4) were inherited by Frank Guest. Bernard Guest inherited the family’s Kirk pitcher (MESDA Acc. 5541). The Guest family silver was reunited at Gay Mont in the 1980s when the house was part of Preservation Virginia.
Credit Line:
Trade/MESDA Purchase Fund