Of classical vasiform shape, this rare pitcher was made in Philadelphia by William Seal, working c. 1810-22. The body is entirely hand raised, with a drawn and applied band making the ring foot and a drawn and applied band of fine gadrooning along the rim. The strongly geometric handle features raised linear decoration on the outside (see detail image). Seal's work is rare and does not survive in great numbers today; it is clear from this piece that he was an accomplished artisan.
The stunning design of this pitcher is based on strong underlying forms. Remove the gadrooned rim, and this piece could easily be from the Art Deco period of the 1920's. No wonder Sam Wagstaff purchased it. A curator by profession, Wagstaff assembled the first and most important collection of American 19th century silver ever collected. His eye was keen and his mind creative. While more money has been used to develop collections since his, Wagstaff's creative sensibilities made his the vanguard collection of our era.
American water pitchers do not appear much earlier than this. The earliest ones were made in Newburyport and Boston as early as 1800-10, only a decade or so before this one was made. These pitchers, also known as jugs, seem to have been made for ice water here in the United States (Clayton, Michael; The Collector's Dictionary of the Silver and Gold of Great Britain and North America; (London: Hamlyn Publishing, 1971); p. 163). Other places, they were used for beer, punch and other concoctions - most likely they were for multiple purposes here too.
While silver forms usually precede ceramic forms, this is a rare case of the reverse being true. Early American water pitchers seem to follow the form of 'Liverpool' jugs of the period. This form of pitcher can be found in Liverpool-type jugs from as early as 1801-2. In this example, the curvaceous scroll handle of the pottery jug has been replaced with a strongly rectilinear handle that became stylish in American silver around 1810-15, and was never popular in ceramics of the period.
The form continued to be made in American ceramics, being closely related to pitchers made by William Ellis Tucker in Philadelphia (working as Tucker & Hulme and Tucker & Hemphill from 1826-38). The first American to make porcelain, Tucker's pieces included pitchers of similar form with scroll handles.
This pitcher is marked underneath 'W. Seal', 'Philadelphia', and with an eagle head pseudo hallmark. It retains two paper labels, one from Christie's, 'Lot 5/ Wagstaff', the other unknown. It measures 8 inches high and weighs a hefty 35.95 troy ounces.
Provenance: Sam Wagstaff. Christie's sale number 6748, January 20, 1989, lot number 5.
Condition: Very good antique condition with typical wear. A monogram has been removed (this is not noticeable) and there are very slight separations in the handle (apparently from normal use).