Cumshing Rare and Early China Trade Silver Creamer, circa 1810 - 20
Wonderful and rare, this piece of early China trade silver is of oblong rectangular form and features vertical reeding on the lower portion of the body with matching reeding on the lid and cast finial. The rim of the body has a cast and applied gadrooned band while four ball feet support the body under a splayed foot rim. The spout is raised and applied while the handle features cast decoration of laurel leaf and berries. This discretely placed ornamentation acknowledges the prevailing classical tastes - not to mention making a political statement in support of our young republican form of government. The pot measures 4 1/4 inches high by 7 1/4 inches long, from tip of spout to end of the handle. This creamer weighs an impressive 17 troy ounces and is in excellent condition. One side is monogrammed "JP" In a foliate script style.
This is one of the most interesting pieces of early China trade silver we have had in quite a while. Cumshing is generally regarded as the one of the preeminent Chinese silversmiths and according to Crosby Forbes in Chinese Export Silver: 1785 to 1885, "stands without peer among early Export silversmiths." (p.74) His work is in the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Yale University Art Galleries, the Detroit Institute of Arts, The Peabody Museum, etc. He worked at his shop located on New China Street in Canton between about 1785 and 1825.
The matching teapot to this creamer is featured in both the Chinese Export Silver book (catalog no. 29, fig. 85) and an article in Connoisseur Magazine (November, 1965). According to Forbes, this set was made for the American market circa 1810 to 1820. It is similar to the China trade silver tea set by Wongshing purchased by Mrs. John Quincy Adams now at the Adams house in Quincy MA.
What can make China trade silver so exciting, and this piece in particular so interesting, is how the Chinese, only marginally exposed to western design idioms, reinterpret those designs attempting to satisfy the western market. Western creamers would never have a spout like this - that of a teapot. Yet the Chinese, aware that pieces of a tea set should look similar, put a teapot spout on the creamer. This is clearly not a teapot, but a creamer with a teapot like design. There is no insulation on the handle or finial - further we can see in the documentation that the teapot had a bone handle and finial.
Construction techniques are also very interesting: the feet are attached in a way unlike any that would have been found coming from a western shop. Instead of simply being soldered to the foot rim, they are soldered to a small supporting bar that is riveted and soldered to the interior of the foot rim. Labor intensive Chinese shop traditions like this, which seem so bizarre to our western eyes, are one of the things that make early Chinese silver so much fun.
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