This pitcher is a rare, but not unique, agricultural premium that was awarded by merchants or distributors rather than at an agricultural or mechanical society fair.
INSCRIPTION: Engraved “Second Tobacco Premium for 1854 to Cash G. Raycroft from Brittons Todd & Harrison” on side of body. The pitcher was awarded in 1854 by Britton, Todd, and Harrison of Petersburg, VA. Britton, Todd, and Harrison was a grocer and merchant firm.
MAKER: The pitcher does not have any manufacturer’s or retailer’s marks.
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.