INSCRIPTION: Engraved “2nd Div Fair M Tenn / & 3rd S A & M S / 1855” on side of body. The cup was a premium presented at the 1the 1855 Second Division Fair of Middle Tennessee for the Tennessee State Agricultural Society held in Gallatin, Sumner Co., Tennessee.
MARK: Struck with incuse “W.H.CALHOUN / NASHVILLE” on underside of base.
MAKER: William Henry Calhoun (1815-1865) was born in Pennsylvania and trained as a silversmith in Philadelphia. He moved to Nashville, Tennessee in 1835 and became one of the city’s most prolific silversmiths. It may be noteworthy that Calhoun was not among the men who signed the membership agreement of the “Association of the Watch-Makers, Silversmiths & Jewellers of Nashville” in 1836. The association established price guidelines for the manufacture and repair of clocks, watches, silver, and jewelery (recorded in fellow silversmith John Campbell’s ledger book, now at MESDA as part of the Thomas A. Gray Rare Book and Manuscript Collection [call number TAG.096.1]). Perhaps his exclusion from the association reflected Calhoun’s recent arrival in Nashville; or perhaps he disagreed with their attempt to regulate his trade through price controls. Four years later he formed a partnership with Joshua Flowers (b.c.1816) and the firm of Calhoun & Flowers was still in operation until at least 1844. The Davidson Co., Tennessee census for 1850 recorded a $3,400 value for Calhoun’s household assets. The 1850s mst have been a prosperous decade for him because ten years later the 1860 county census recorded him as owning $84,300 in real property and $40,000 in personal property. Calhoun’s success in business and civic standing is also reflected in a bulding at Vanderbilt University, named William H. Calhoun Hall, erected through a large bequest from his daughter, Mary Ella Calhoun. See Benjamin H. Caldwell Jr., “Tennessee Silversmiths” (Winston-Salem, NC: Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, 1988).
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.