Michael Gibeny (attr) American Coin Silver ‘Grape’ or ‘Vintage’ Pattern Soup Ladle - Agricultural Presentation to Charles Mason Hovey, c. 1860
This lovely ladle is in the ‘Grape’ or vintage pattern. Wonderfully cast bunches of grapes and leaves flow from vines around the fiddle-shaped cartouche. The ladle is inscribed: ‘N.Y. State Agl Society 1860/ First Premium/ on Pears & Apples/ C. M. Hovey.’ A premium was a prize in the mid-19th century: Hovey had won first prize for pears and apples.
Charles Mason Hovey (1810-87) was America’s great agricultural and horticultural innovator of the early and mid-19th century. In 1832, Hovey and his brother started a small nursery in Cambridge, MA. Immediately, Hovey began experimenting with improving strawberries. Because of its hardiness and taste, his ‘Hovey’ strawberry was the standard varietal grown in New England until the end of the 19th century. By 1845, in a much-expanded nursery, Hovey had over 1000 varieties of pear, 400 varieties of apples and many other fruits. He also grew over 200 varieties of camellia, which were exhibited internationally. (1) Further, Hovey innovated the garden lily. Importing the first hybrid lilies from England, he created his own varietals by breeding them with exotic Japanese species. (2)
Not content to simply breed and grow, Hovey was a great educator and writer. He founded American Gardiner’s’ Magazine (later the Magazine of Horticulture) at the age of 24 and served as editor for 34 years. He served as the president of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society for four years. His magnum opus, Fruits in America, was published in sections from 1847-56. It is considered one of the most important documents of American antebellum agriculture. Further, with over 100 extremely fine chromolithographs of fruit, it is considered a masterpiece of lithography and can be worth well over five figures today.
For wine lovers: Hovey also championed the ‘zinfindal’ grape (today known as zinfandel), which had been recently imported from Europe. In New England where the weather was not suitable for viniculture, it was grown as a fine tasting table grape - known for its early availability through forced ripening. As a commercial nurseryman, Hovey shipped ‘zinfindal’ to California...and the rest is American wine history. (3)
Noel Turner, in American Silver Flatware, notes this ladle is in Whiting’s ‘Grape’ pattern. Michael Gibney, an important New York flatware maker, was the first silversmith to receive a US design patent for flatware in 1844 and marked much of his flatware with patent dates, although not always with his maker’s mark.
This ladle is marked by the Albany, NY retailer Wendell & Feltman; it is also marked ‘PATED 1855’. Since Whiting wound up with many of Michael Gibney’s dies, this is almost certainly the pattern by Michael Gibney for which he received patent number 698 on April 3, 1855. (4)
This lovely server measures 13.5 inches long, weighs 2.40 troy ounces and is in very good condition with only very light wear to the well-struck pattern.
George McMillan Darrow, The Strawberry: History, Breeding and Physiology (New York: New England Institute for Medical Research, 1966), chapter 12.
"A Gardener’s World: The Lilies of Summer" in The New York Times, 5 July 1990 p. C7.
Charles L. Sullivan, Zinfandel: A History of a Grape and Its Wine, (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2003), pp.16-17.
Dorothy Rainwater & Judy Redfield, The Encyclopedia of American Silver Manufacturers, 4th Revised Edition, pp. 121-2.