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Kirk, Samuel & Son
Place Made:
Baltimore Maryland United States of America
Date Made:
HOA: 17-1/4″; WOA: 9-1/4″; DIA: 5-3/4″ (base)
Accession Number:
DESCRIPTION: Tall silver pitcher in the ewer form with its entire surface covered in repousse decoration with floral motifs, acanthus leaves, and a village scene with buildings, bridge and trees. This decorative motif as identified by its maker as the “Etruscan” pattern. The spout is rounded with an applied beaded edge. The angular handle opposite the spout rises above the rim and is decorated with a cast ram’s head and floral decorations. The handle is attached again near the center of the body. Acanthus leaves ornament encircles the pedestal where it is attached to the body and flares downward into the round round base, which is covered in floral repousse decoration.

INSCRIPTION: Engraved with gothic initials “E.T.B. / to / J. H. B” in the cartouche on side of the body opposite the handle.

MARK: Struck on underside bottom of body with intaglio “S.KIRK & SON” (double struck) and “11 oz” marks rectangular reserves. 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: Silver pitchers in Colonial America were most often small cream pitchers in the rococo fashion that were used as part of the tea ceremony to serve milk. Large wide-mouthed pitchers in the neoclassical and empire styles became popular after the American Revolution. Such pitchers were used to serve water or wine and provided silversmiths with abundant flat surface area for engraving everything from simple monograms to armorials to lengthy presentations. The term “pitcher” is most commonly used in the United States and can be applied to any container with a spout for pouring liquids. In other English-speaking countries, the term “jug” is use more prevalently. A “ewer” is a vase-shaped, handled pitcher, often decorated, with a base and flaring spout.

This silver pitcher was owned by John Hipkins Bernard (1792-1858) of “Gay Mont” in Port Royal, Virginia. An October 1854 entry in Bernard’s account book reads: “Paid to Sam’l Kirk & Son-$81.00.” The Samuel Kirk & Son books include an entry in December 1854: “Chas. Tiernan for J.H. Bernard / 1 Etruscan Pitcher $85.” Charles Tiernan (1797-1886) of Baltimore was Bernard’s son-in-law and appears to have acted as Bernard’s agent in the transaction. Although Bernard seems to have acquired the pitcher himself, according to family tradition it was engraved “E.T.B. to J.H.B.” as a gift from Bernard’s half sister Elizabeth Thacker Bernard (1814-1866). Bernard supposedly helped Elizabeth and his other younger half sisters receive a fair settlement in their father’s estate. The pitcher was valued for $85 in Bernard’s July 1858 probate inventory and inherited by his daughter, Helen S. Bernard (1836-1901), who subsequently sold it to her sister Mary Elizabeth Bernard Guest (1824-1895). The pitcher then passed on to Mary Elizabeth Bernard Guest’s son Bernard Robertson Guest (1864-1948). Her other son, Frank Barksdale Guest (1867-1926), received the family’s Kirk coffee service and butter cooler (Acc. 5540.1-3). 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