Collections › MESDA Collection › Coffeepot


Petrie, Alexander
Place Made:
Charleston South Carolina United States of America
Date Made:
silver –wood
HOA: 10-7/8″; WOA: 8-7/8″; DIA: 4-9/16″ (body)
Accession Number:
DESCRIPTION: Silver coffeepot, tapered shape with incurved body upon a round molded base with hinged molded top crowned by a cast Georgian-style finial. The wooden handle (replaced) is attached to the upper and lower sockets by an ivory insulator. The cast handle sockets and spout feature leaf or foliated designs. Unlike most silver hollowware created during the eighteenth century, which was raised (hammered up) from a disc, the body of this coffeepot is constructed from sheet silver and joined in a vertical seam, a technique that did not become standard in American silver until the nineteenth century. This coffeepot is one of four known by Alexander Petrie, all of them virtually identical in size, shape, and fittings; only one is decorated with repousse swags, flowers, and shells (see Acc. 3996).

INSCRIPTION: Underside of base engraved “D. Ravenel/ 1776”.

MARK: Struck four times on underside of base with intaglio “AP” mark in a rectangle reserve.

MAKER: Alexander Petrie (c.1707-1768) was first identified as a Charleston, South Carolina silversmith in the December 1742 will of Richard Woodard but he had probably been working in the city for at least a few years. Petrie first advertised as a goldsmith in a 1745 Charleston newspaper. He was married three years later to Elizabeth Holland, “an agreeable Lady, of great Merit.” Petrie made silver wares at his bench and also imported silver goods from London, advertising in 1761 that he had just received a “neat assortment of the most useful goldsmith’s, silversmith’s, and jeweler’s work.” Petrie retired in July 1765, keeping his silversmithing tools but selling the stock of his shop to fellow Charleston silversmith Jonathan Sarrazin (w. 1754-c. 1790). Petrie’s retirement was most likely due to the wealth he had accumulated through his craft and land speculation. He had begun to purchase property on East Bay in 1750 and in 1767 he purchased the entire property between Broad and Tradd Streets known as the “Orange Garden,” broke it up into twelve parcels and developed the area. After Petrie’s death in 1768, Jonathan Sarrazin purchased an enslaved man named Abraham for the large sum of £810, who was identified as a silversmith in Petrie’s estate sale. The fact that Petrie had kept his silversmith’s tools at the time of his retirement in 1765 may indicate that the tools were being used by Abraham, who could have been maintaining Petrie’s shop or was hired out to other silversmiths such as Sarrazin. A rare but not unique southern artisan, Abraham was among a small number of other enslaved silversmiths have been documented working in Charleston, Richmond, and Annapolis during the eighteenth century. See Brandy S. Culp, “Artisan, Entrepreneur, and Gentleman: Alexander Petrie and the Colonial Charleston Silver Trade” (MA Thesis, Bard Graduate Center, 2004) and E. Milby Burton, “South Carolina Silversmiths 1690-1860 (Charleston, SC: Charleston Museum, 1967).

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.

The coffeepot descended in the family of Daniel Ravenel (1732-1781) and his wife Charlotte Mazyck (1738-1807). The engraved name (“D. Ravenel”) and date (“1776”) on the bottom of the coffepot’s base indicates the couple’s ownership. Because the pot must have been made prior to Petrie’s death in 1768, the Ravenels may have acquired it in 1776 (suggested by the engraved date) or perhaps even later.
Credit Line:
Gift of Frank L. Horton