Stories in Sterling: Four Centuries of Silver in New York

Margaret Hofer, New-York Historical Society

Tuesday, December 10, 2013Mini-exhibit: 7:15pmLecture: 8:00pm
de Young Museum
Aeronautical trophy retailed by Black, Starr & Frost (active 1874-1929), New York City, 1907

Aeronautical trophy retailed by Black, Starr & Frost (active 1874-1929), New York City, 1907. Silver. The New-York Historical Society, Gift of Alan R. Hawley.

Teapot attributed to Kiliaen Van Rensselaer (1663-1719), Albany or Watervliet, NY, ca. 1695

Teapot attributed to Kiliaen Van Rensselaer (1663-1719), Albany or Watervliet, NY, ca. 1695. Silver and pearwood. The New-York Historical Society, bequest of Major General Philip Schuyler.

The New-York Historical Society holds one of the finest collections of early American silver in the nation. This trove of nearly 3,000 objects is remarkable because it is composed almost entirely of silver donated by descendants of the original owners, who preserved their inherited tankards and teapots as tangible links to New York’s past. Appreciated today for their workmanship, aesthetic qualities or rarity, the provenance of these pieces have additional layers of meaning conferred by the patina of successive generations of use. The richly documented objects open a window onto silver’s symbolic meanings, its role in sustaining kinship ties and its ability to convey the ambitions and achievements of its owners.

Margaret Hofer’s recent exhibition, “Stories in Sterling: Four Centuries of Silver in New York,” and its companion catalogue, have brought long-overdue attention to the New-York Historical Society’s holdings. Dazzling masterpieces by silversmiths from Myer Myers to Tiffany & Co. are considered along with unassuming heirlooms that offer up historically compelling tales and give texture to the life of early New Yorkers. The selection embraces the full range of lustrous metals available to New Yorkers from European settlement to the present day, including sterling, coin silver and even electroplate. All of the objects were made or owned in New York, although some originated as far afield as Amsterdam, Buenos Aires and Canton.

Margaret Hofer will discuss a sampling of highlights from the Historical Society’s collection, focusing on exciting new finds uncovered during the course of research for the catalogue. She will include the charming teapot crafted by Kiliaen Van Renssealer for Johannes and Elizabeth Schuyler in 1695, one of the earliest teapots made in the colonies; a rare 1750s coffeepot with rococo ornament made in Kingston, Jamaica, previously misidentified as an English manufacture; and a breathtaking trophy in the form of a hot air balloon, awarded in 1907 for a record-breaking balloon flight.

Margaret Hofer earned a bachelor’s degree in art history from Yale, followed by a master’s degree from the Winterthur program in early American culture. As an independent curator, her clients included the Princeton University Art Museum and the Historical Society of Princeton. Since then, she has assumed progressively more responsible positions as assistant curator, associate curator and curator of decorative arts at the New-York Historical Society.

Ms Hofer’s publications include Stories in Sterling: Four Centuries of Silver in New York (2012) [the subject of her presentation to the Forum]; A New Light on Tiffany: Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls with Martin Eidelberg and Nina Gray (2007); The Games We Played: The Golden Age of Board and Table Games (2003); and Seat of Empire with Roberta J.M. Olson (2002). Her contributions to The Magazine Antiques are “A Needlework Sampler from the New York African Free School” (January/February 2012); “The Women Mosaicists of Tiffany Studios” with Nina Gray and Martin Heidelberg (March 2007); “Eighteenth and Nineteenth-Century Family Silver” (January 2005); “Napoleon’s Fauteuil from Paris to Point Breeze” with Roberta J.M. Olson (October 2002); and “Furniture Makers and Allied Craftsmen in Plymouth and Bristol Counties, Massachusetts, 1760-1810” (May 2001). Ms Hofer also contributed “Stories in Sterling: Four Centuries of Silver in New York” to Antiques & Fine Art (Summer 2012).

7:15pm mini-exhibit

Participate with precious presentation silver, memorial and religious silver.


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.