A Great Variety of Gold and Silver: Charleston’s Silver Trade

Brandy Culp, Historic Charleston

Tuesday, December 14, 2010Mini-exhibit: 7:15pmLecture: 8:00pm
de Young Museum
Alexander Petrie Coffeepot, Salver, and Marrow Scoop, Charleston

Alexander Petrie (c. 1717-1768). Coffeepot, Salver, and Marrow Scoop, Charleston, 1740/65. Silver; Coffeepot: 27: 00 cm (10.63 in.); Salver: 31: 5 cm (12.4 in.); Marrow Scoop: 21: 00 cm (8.27 in.). Collection of The Charleston Museum:

Tankard by William Wilkings

William Wilkings (or Wilkins), Tankard, 1749/51. Wappetaw Church collection.

Detail of a Tankard by William Wilkings

William Wilkings (or Wilkins), Detail of a Tankard, 1749/51. Wappetaw Church collection.

Charleston, South Carolina was the undisputed silver capital of the South—-with no Southern city a close second. Despite this prominence, there is relatively little Charleston silver to be found and, therefore, scholars have published relatively little information about Charleston silver. Most silver scholars simply omit reference to Southern silver. Brandy Culp’s historical research can explain why the limited number of extant examples of splendid 18th century metalwork does not reflect the volume of silver actually produced by Charleston’s artisans. In presenting her research, Ms Culp will refute the longstanding misunderstanding that Southern craftsmen imported vastly more than they created.

Brandy Culp’s lecture will focus on Charleston’s silversmiths, jewelers and watchmakers from 1730 to 1769. Her research has discovered that the written record demonstrates that Charleston supported a flourishing artisan community that satisfied the demands of a cosmopolitan, urban population.

Charleston’s unparalleled wealth, and voracious appetite for the most stylish of luxury goods, may ironically be responsible for why relatively little colonial Charleston silver has survived. Fashion-conscious Charlestonians may have had their old silver melted down and refashioned into the latest styles. Abundant newspaper advertisements certainly support that hypothesis. Silversmith Charles Harris advertised in 1762 that he would fashion silver items “out of Dollars, rings, buckles, buttons, &c. all warranted Sterling.” Silversmith and jeweler Jonathan Sarazin accepted “old gold and silver in payment.” Brandy Culp also attributes the absence of extant Southern silver to man-made and natural disasters: two major wars (including the one of Northern aggression), numerous fires, many hurricanes and the 1886 earthquake.

Brandy Culp can also document that the sheer number of Charleston’s silversmiths was far greater than in the other colonies because of the per capita wealth of the community and the extensive geographic area of the planter class they served. Charleston’s artisans are also notably distinguishable from their other colonial counterparts because of their ethnic—-and stylistic—-diversity.

Brandy Culp is currently the Curator of Historic Charleston Foundation. Before joining the Foundation, she served as the Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow in the Department of American Art at the Art Institute of Chicago. She has worked at the Bard Graduate Center in the Exhibitions Department and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she spent two years conducting research for the exhibition Art and the Empire City, New York, 1825-1861 under the direction of the late Catherine Voorsanger.

Ms Culp graduated from Hollins University and received her master of arts degree with an emphasis in American decorative arts from the Bard Graduate Center. She completed her thesis at Bard on the 18th-century Charleston silversmith Alexander Petrie and the Carolina silver trade. The topic of metalwork remains one of her greatest interests, and to this subject, she brings a comprehensive understanding of American decorative arts and material culture from the 17th century to the present.

The Michael Weller Memorial Silver Lecture, funded by a special endowment fund created by family, friends and colleagues of Michael Weller.

7:15pm mini-exhibit

Make the December program shimmer with objects of gold, silver and silver gilt.

8:00pm

Koret Auditorium, de Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. Enter from Level B1 of the parking garage; pedestrians enter from the concourse side of Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive and down the steps across the street from the museum’s main entrance.