Collections › MESDA Collection › Porringer


Ball, William
Place Made:
Baltimore Maryland United States of America
Date Made:
HOA: 1-3/4″; DIA: 4-7/8″
Accession Number:
DESCRIPTION: Silver porringer with attached open-scroll handle.

MARK: Struck on reverse of handle with “W.BALL” intaglio mark in a rectangle; this mark is considered to be the earliest of five marks used by William Ball.

MAKER: William Ball was born in England in 1763 and was working in Baltimore, Maryland at least by 1789, when the Maryland Orphans’ Court Proceedings recorded the indenture of an apprentice to the silversmith (Vol 2, 1787-1792, p. 119, 13 August 1789). The Maryland Journal (25 September 1790) announced the dissolution of a partnership of between Ball and Israel H. Johnson (working 1786-1790). In 1812 Ball appears in another partnership as Ball & Heald; Heald is probably John S. Heald. Documented apprentices to Ball include Cantwell Douglas [b.1774], David Pluright [], Thomas Murphy [ 1781] and Alfred White [ 1783]. Like his contemporary George Aiken (1765-1832), Ball suffered financial reverses during the 1810s and in 1814 took advantage of the insolvency laws; for a time he ran a packet line between Baltimore and Alexandria. Ball was a member of a local Abolitionist organization, and there is some evidence that he may have aided in the escape of a runaway slave via his packet line. Ball worked at his trade up until his death in June of 1815. See Jacob Hall Pleasants and Howard Sill, “Maryland Silversmiths, 1715-1830” (Baltimore, MD: Lord Baltimore Press, 1930) and Jennifer Faulds Goldsborough, “Silver in Maryland” (Baltimore, MD: Maryland Historical Society, 1983).

FORM: Porringers were probably the most common type of silver objects made in America during the eighteenth century, except for spoons. The form derives from English prototypes and usually has a bellied bowl with a central “boss,” or dome, in the middle. While there were many handle variants, the so-called keyhole type, found on porringers from Boston to Baltimore, was by far the most common after 1720. These handles were always cast and then soldered to the lip of the wrought bowl. Yet, porringers seem to have been unpopular in Baltimore, judging from the small number which have survived. This might be explained by the fact that the form was going out of style in America during the first years of the nineteenth century, at which time the Baltimore silver industry witnessed its primary growth as Baltimore became a major port in the decades following the American Revolution.

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