The New York Historical Society has done it again, hauling out all sorts of ornate, expensive, lovely silver items to tell the City’s history in the soon-closing exhibition Stories in Sterling: Four Centuries of Silver in New York.
Every time you peer into the reflections of dozens of silver pieces, the curators draw you into an historic event, person, or point in time in our collective urban history – silver brandywine bowls used by 1700s Dutch women to celebrate new babies, silver German medals modified into “passports” for travelers crossing Indian land in the 1750s, a silver coffeepot sold by Gouverneur Morris in 1801 to Robert Livingston after Thom J turned it down, and an elaborate 1863 Tiffany sugar bowl presented to the heroic engineer manning the guns on the Monitor in its showdown with the Merrimac the year before. Take a look at the on-line gallery.
Did you know that consumer culture of the 1880s required that up-to-date Victorian families have specialized serving implements and devices for every food imaginable? To prove this point, NYHS features just a smidgen of the 381 silver dinner service items presented to Commodore Perry in 1885 by the City’s Chamber of Commerce as thanks for his success in opening up trade with Japan — silver berry spoons, asparagus tongs, mustard spoons, nutpicks, bonbon dishes, and a zillion other things.
Most unexpected item: the Tiffany silver subway control handle that Mayor George B. McClellan Jr. used to drive our first subway train in 1904. He was supposed to take the IRT only as far as 42nd Street, but couldn’t let go of this slice of silver until he reached 103rd .