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Petrie, Alexander
Place Made:
Charleston South Carolina United States of America
Date Made:
HOA: 1-1/2″; DIA: 2-1/2″
Accession Number:
DESCRIPTION: Salt dish of circular form with molded rim and three hoof feet.

MARK: Struck four times on underside of base with intaglio “AP” mark in a rectangular 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: Salt was an expensive commodity before the eighteenth century and used ceremoniously, dispensed from elaborate containers. By about 1700 small salt containers designed to be used by an individual at his or her place at the table began to replace the great communal salts of medieval times. Early American salt containers were generally quite small and, befitting salt’s valued place on the table, often made of elaborately decorated silver. Because salt is extremely corrosive, most early saltcellars were open containers that could be easily emptied after each use. Glass inserts were increasingly used in the nineteenth century to protect the silver cellars. This remained true until the popularization of the salt shaker in the middle of the nineteenth century. The overall evolution from a communal form to an individualistic, personalized object reflects in part the vast changes taking place in American culture, which placed increasing emphasis on individuals and their place in society.

Credit Line:
MESDA Purchase Fund