May 05, 2017

The Samuel M. Felton 'Medallion' Silver Presentation Service, George Sharp for Bailey & Co. and Gorham, c. 1865

"Resolved, That in commemoration of these eminent public services and virtues, a Committee of gentlemen be appointed, including the officers of this meeting, to prepare and present to Mr. Felton a suitable service of silver plate as a testimonial of our admiration and regard."
- From a resolution honoring Felton, April 17, 1865.

Samuel M. Felton was a national hero when he retired as president of the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad. He had successfully run the strategically important railroad - the only railroad link between the northern Union states and the nation's capital - during the Civil War withstanding Confederate attacks. Felton helped thwart a possible assassination attempt on Abraham Lincoln as he rode on a PWBRR train to his inauguration in 1861.

Passed in his honor on April 17, 1865, the above resolution was signed by 26 prominent Philadelphians including: John Welsh, Thomas Kimber, Jr., Charles I Dupont, Morton McMichael, William D. Lewis, J. Edgar Thomson, etc. - a group which included many important individuals from the world of railroad executives and engineers, merchants, financiers, politicians and officers of the armed forces. See the entire resolution below.

On June 9, 1865 in a page one article, the North American and United States Gazette of Philadelphia reported that, '... a number of our citizens have procured a service of solid silver plate, valued at six thousand dollars. It will be presented to Mr. Felton to-day at his residence below Chester.' Six thousand dollars was a huge sum for a presentation in 1865, being equivalent to $150,000.00 - $200,000.00 today.

In a thank you note of the same date, Felton notes these objects are "...more precious than wealth, as they are spontaneous tokens of regard...by his (my) fellow Citizens and Contemporaries - men whose high position make such tokens an honor and an invaluable legacy to (my children)."

This important partial service includes a sterling silver centerpiece compote, swing-handled cake basket, covered entree server and covered butter dish all by George Sharp for Bailey & Company. It also includes a coin silver water pitcher and goblet by Gorham also sold by Bailey & Co. Please see the individual pages for larger photos and full descriptions.

It is unusual for large services to remain this intact. (In fact, this has descended in different branches of the family and we have reunited these pieces.) This is the largest and most thorough collection of 'Medallion' holloware we have ever seen and it represents the height of fashion in 1865. Individually, they are some of the finest pieces of 'Medallion' silver we have ever had the privilege to sell; together they are extraordinary.

The Felton presentation was clearly an important order for Bailey & Co., one of the most distinguished jewelers in Philadelphia. Relying mostly on excellent products from the shop of George Sharp, they supplemented these with Gorham's outstanding work. The Sharp pieces are the only ones we have seen in this precise 'Medallion' pattern and we believe they may represent a custom design.

George Sharp had been Bailey & Co.'s silver shop foreman until he started his own business in 1861, when Bailey discontinued the in-house manufacture of silver. Bailey continued to order silver from Sharp and the Felton pieces bear Bailey & Co.'s sterling silver marks, indicating that Sharp continued to use the Bailey marks on Bailey retailed silver even after starting his own shop. (Many thanks to D. Albert Soeffing for his help, see his article in Silver Magazine March/April, 2004 which greatly improves our knowledge of George Sharp.)

Samuel Morse Felton (1809-1889), a civil engineer, left his post as Superintendent and Engineer of the Fitchburg Railroad to become President of the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad in 1851. Under his leadership, the technologically innovative PWBRR became the largest passenger railroad in the country, playing a highly important role in the Civil War by transporting Union troops and supplies.

In 1865, Felton retired from the railroad due to ill health. After recovering, he became President of the Pennsylvania Steel Company, a leader in developing the 'Bessemer' process of production and the first US company to make steel rails commercially. The steel company was located in Harrisburg, PA, requiring Felton to leave Philadelphia.

Felton continued an active interest in both the business of railroads and the civic life of the country. Serving as a director of many railroads, he was appointed by President Grant as a Commissioner to inspect the new Pacific Railroads in 1869. In 1876, he was a director of the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. Two generations of Felton family papers are kept at the Smithsonian Institution Museum of American History's archives (where much of this information comes from).

Provenance: Mostly by descent in the family.

Condition: Excellent/very good, see individual descriptions.

See these individual pages for complete descriptions and detailed photographs:

George Sharp Centerpiece Compote
George Sharp Swing-handled Cake Basket
George Sharp Covered Entree Server
George Sharp Covered Butter Dish
Gorham Figural Water Pitcher
Gorham Goblet

 

Resolution honoring Samuel M. Felton
Text of Preamble and Resolution honoring Samuel M. Felton:

(from a typewritten copy in the Smithsonian Archives)

Philadelphia, No. 308 Walnut Street,
April 17th, 1865.

At a meeting of Citizens of Philadelphia and its vicinity, held on the 17th day of April, 1865, Mr. John Welsh was called to the Chair, and Thomas Kimber, Jr., appointed Secretary. The following Preamble and Resolutions were on motion unanimously adopted, and ordered to be published in the Journals of the city.

Whereas, It is now publicly announced that Mr. Samuel M. Felton, -- who, for many years has so ably presided over the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore Rail Road Company, and who, during the long and painful ordeal of our Civil strife, has, in that capacity, so eminently and faithfully discharged every duty to his Country and to this community, as well as to the special interests in his care, -- has recently been obliged to retire from that important position, and to withdraw from all public duties:-

And Whereas, It is well understood that rapidly failing health, the result of too great a pressure of anxiety and care imposed upon him during the late public emergency, is the cause of his retirement; - and it is not deemed fitting that so prominent and useful a citizen should, under such circumstances, pass unnoticed and unhonored into the shades of private life:-

And Whereas, It is a matter of official record, authenticated beyond a question, and attested by many, now participating in these proceedings, that to Mr. Felton, more than to any other man, is due the credit of successfully opening the Annapolis Route to Washington in April, 1861; a measure which contributed so essentially to the preservation of our National Capital, after the destruction of the southern portion of his Road by the Baltimore Secessionists:

And Whereas, It was, as we have the strongest reason to believe, mainly owing to the vigilance, energy and skill of Mr. Felton that the plot to assassinate President Lincoln, on his way to the National Capital, in February, 1861, was discovered and frustrated:- a crime, the blackest in our annals, which has at length been unhappily consummated, and has filled the land with mourning:-

And Whereas, - We cherish in grateful remembrance the unswerving fidelity and untiring and watchful zeal, with which, not only in these important instances, but through all the earlier stages of the present great Rebellion, Mr. Felton guarded the honor and interests of his Country, holding all other interests subservient to these; as was shown in his memorable and courageous response to those deluded men, who threatened the utter destruction of the property in his charge, if he continued to transport the National troops - and which we wish here to record:-

"The time has come" said he, on the 17th of April, 1861, "when there must be only two classes recognized in this country, Union Men and Disunion men. For myself I do not hesitate to decide upon my duty in this trying hour; it is to stand by the Government and abide the consequences. I shall therefore endeavor to do, to the best, of my ability, what is required of me. If our Road is disabled, the responsibility must rest upon the wicked persons, who do the deed, and a terrible retribution certainly will await them."

And Whereas - while thus devoting his utmost energies to the service of his Country, it is well known that Mr. Felton determined at the outset of this war neither to accept for himself nor to ask for a friend, a Government contract or office, or any pecuniary advantage, in order that he might more disinterestedly discharge his public duties; to which resolution he has faithfully adhered throughout the whole term of his office.

It is therefore Resolved, That the Citizens of Philadelphia have heard with deep concern and regret that Mr. Samuel M. Felton has been obliged to relinquish the important position he has so long held with honor before our Country, and in this community: and they earnestly trust, that, under the blessing of Providence, his health may be restored by the opportunity of rest and relaxation, now afforded him, from his arduous duties.

Resolved, That in commemmoration (sic) of these eminent public services and virtues, a Committee of gentlemen be appointed, including the officers of this meeting, to prepare and present to Mr. Felton a suitable service of silver plate as a testimonial of our admiration and regard.

Resolved, That a Record of the proceedings of this meeting, and the accompanying Resolutions, be appropriately engrossed on parchment, signed by its officers and the above mentioned Committee, and also presented to Mr. Felton on its behalf.

On motion, Edward W. Clark, Esq., was appointed Treasurer of the fund proposed to be raised f or the purpose above mentioned.

The Chairman having announced the following Committee, on motion the meeting adjourned.

John Welsh
Chairman

Thos. Kimber, Jr.,
Secretary.

COMMITTEE

Wm. D. Lewis

John Welsh
A. S. Boris
G. Macalester
J. Edgar Thomson
Charles I. Dupont
John Ruins
Thos. Kimber, Jr.
Edward W. Clark
George H. Stuart
Hanson Robinson
John Rice
Thomas A. Scott
Frederick Fraley
J. Gillingham Fell
D. B. Cummins
H. S. McComb
Edward G. Knight
Morton McMichael
S. V. Merrick
Philip Quigley
John Tucker
Samuel Harlan
M. W. Baldwin
George Whitney
William Sellers

 


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