Obadiah Rich (attr.) 6-piece Antique Coin Silver Coffee and Tea Service, retailed by Lows, Ball & Company, Boston, MA, c. 1840s
This wonderful service is a rare example of early American silver from Boston. It is of exceptional craftsmanship, quality, and weight. It consists of a large coffee pot, teapot, creamer, covered sugar bowl, waste bowl, and a rare hot milk pot. The hot milk pot was matched to the service and is practically identical with subtle differences to the handle, engraving, and finial.
The rare tapering octagonal paneled form from the 1840s is one of our favorite styles of the 19th century. Referred to as the 'octagonal' style when made, it was the most expensive style available at the time due to the hard work involved in crafting the shaped body and parts. On applied stepped octagonal feet, the octagonal bodies rise to molded rims. The stepped covers, also of octagonal panels, feature dynamic 18th century inspired octagonal finials. Flat surfaces are extremely difficult for silversmiths to execute and this service is a testament to exceptional silversmithing skills.
Not only are the individual pieces classical and elegant, but the decoration is also outstanding. Each panel is beautifully hand-engraved with floral and foliate swirls and scrolls. The various vignettes depict castles, Asian figures, a pelican, a gentleman riding a horse, etc. Even the shaped handles and spouts are decorated. The spout opening on the hot milk is shaped like a heart.
Obadiah Rich was the most important silversmith working in Boston from 1825-50, and his work can be found in important museum collections. Unfortunately, Rich marked little of his work but sold most of it through other retailers. This rare set was sold by Lows, Ball & Co. and the hot milk pot was retailed by Jones, Ball & Poor, predecessor firms to the venerable Boston jeweler Shreve, Crump & Low. Rich's most important commissions came from these firms.
The matched milk pot is signed by Woodward & Grosjean another important Boston firm. Marked pieces by Woodward & Grosjean are also quite rare. About 1850 they moved to New York City, re-branded as Grosjean & Woodward, to become one of Charles Tiffany's principal suppliers before Tiffany & Co. made their own silver.
All of the pieces are monogrammed on one side in a cursive style 'MSF' for Mary S. French, and the hot milk pot is engraved with an 'F.'
Provenance: Mary S. French was the wife of Benjamin F. French of Lowell, MA. The service was left to their niece Rebecca French Read, and it has descended in the family.
Benjamin French was one of the early Lowell industrialists and involved in the textile and railroad industries as well as banking. His 1853 estate was valued at just over $100,000.00, and the inventory includes "1 Tea Sett 5 pieces" valued at $400.00 and a covered pitcher valued at $50.00.
Four hundred and fifty dollars was a significant sum. At the time, a good riding horse, one of the most important things someone could own, cost between $100.00 and $150.00. The Frenchs owned a second smaller house on Charles Street in downtown Lowell valued at $800.00. This set was worth over half the value of that house.
All of the pieces are marked 'LOWS, BALL & COMPANY/ Fine.'. The hot milk pitcher is marked 'W&G/ JONES, BALL & POOR/ PURE COIN/ BOSTON.' The coffee pot measures 9.5 inches across the spout and handle by 8.75 inches high and weighs an impressive 29.65 troy ounces. The total weight of the service is 110.9 troy ounces, and it is in excellent antique condition with original wood insulators and exquisite engraving.