MARK: Struck on face of bottom rim with intaglio “W & G R” mark in a rectangular reserve.
MAKER: Brothers William (1755-1809) and George Richardson (1761-1805) formed a partnership in about 1782 in Richmond, Virginia. They were the sons of John Richardson (b.1718/22) and Abigail Furnace Richardson (b.1727) of York Co., Virginia. It is not known where George apprenticed, perhaps with his brother William, who was apprenticed under Gabriel Galt (1748-1788) in the 1770s. The Richardson shop was an active one. They advertised often for their business (“an elegant assortment of silverwork, jewelry, hair devices, mourning and other rings, and they were still giving [the utmost value for old gold and silver.]”) and were frequently mentioned in advertisements by other tradesmen and merchants. Their shop was referenced in newspaper accounts of the fire of 12 November 1798 that burned most of the nearby businesses, including the Richardsonses’. The brothers closed the shop until rebuilding was completed–when it re-opened George Richardson had retired to Hanover Co., Virginia and William advertised alone. See Catherine B. Hollan, “Virginia Silversmiths, Jewelers, Watch- and Clockmakers, 1607-1860: Their Lives and Marks” (McLean, VA: Hollan Press, 2010).
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.