John Chandler Moore, silversmith. Ball, Tompkins & Black, retailer, New York. 1834–1851. Silver. 16 3/8 × 7 in. (41.6 × 17.8 cm); diam. 6 3/4 in. (17.1 cm). Marks: BALL TOMPKINS & BLACK / NEW YORK / J.C.M. / 9. Museum of the City of New York, Bequest of Pauline Riggs Noyes, 1942, 42.469.20

From the Exhibition:

New York Crystal Palace 1853

In 1853, the northwest gallery of the New York Crystal Palace exhibited some of the most precious objects made in the United States—notably, gold and silver ware, jewelry, watches, and other personal ornaments. Among the local contributors, two of the city’s most prominent retailers and manufacturers of silver and jewelry, Ball, Black & Co. and Tiffany & Co., received the highest award at the fair, a silver medal, for their “fine specimens of Gold Presentation Plate and articles of silverware” and “elaborately wrought Classical Silverware and Jewelry of Superior design and execution,” respectively.1

The Ball, Black & Co. pitcher may have been part of the display at the fair; the firm presented similar examples of elaborately executed silver as well as gold. According to Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion, two impressive tea services in solid California gold were shown at the New York Crystal Palace (fig. 1)—one consisting of twenty-nine pieces and valued at $15,000; the other, a four-piece service tea for shipping magnate Edward K. Collins, engraved with his initials.2 Although now lost, the Collins gold service was adorned with the same high-relief grapes and vine leaves as those on this silver pitcher. At the 1851 Crystal Palace in London, the Collins tea service had already been praised for its intricate ornamentation, “finished with the same care that fine jewelry is.”3

On the underside of the pitcher’s base, next to Ball, Tompkins & Black (as Ball, Black & Co. was known before 1851), is the recognizable mark of the manufacturer, John C. Moore. During the mid-nineteenth century, Moore (1803–1874) produced some of the most representative silver of the period, adorned with his signature pattern: rusticated grapevine handles and bodies chased with repoussé grape clusters. These foliate and serpentine forms encapsulate the Rococo revival style, so popular at the time.4 As one of New York City’s premiere silversmiths, the Moore firm also produced services in the neo-Rococo style for the other prominent luxury retail house, Tiffany & Co., with which the silversmith entered into an exclusive production agreement around 1851.5

At the New York Crystal Palace, works in precious metal in particular were considered an example of American ingenuity, artistry, and industry. The Gleason’s Pictorial article notes that, although Ball, Black & Co. sold much imported jewelry and gems in their Broadway store, the company had chosen to exhibit only genuinely American products at the fair. “There is nothing in the whole palace more thoroughly American than this gorgeous mineral and artistic display. All the gold and much of the silver came from the occidental world. Every article was made here, by our own artists, under the immediate supervision of Ball, Black & Co.”6 Thus, gold and silver objects such as this pitcher were considered an epitome of the country’s vast natural resources as well as of American aesthetic taste. In its display and promotion of national art and industry, the importance of the New York Crystal Palace Exhibition cannot be understated.

Fig. 1. “Contribution of Ball, Black & Co. to the New York Crystal Palace.” Wood engraving. From Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion 5 (October 1, 1853), 213. Boston Public Library.

[1] The Association for the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations, The Official Awards of Juries (New York: W. C. Bryant, 1853), 85.

[2] Frederick Gleason and Maturin Murray Ballou, eds. Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion 5, no. 14 (October 1, 1853), 213. The service had been commissioned by a group of Manhattan merchants for presentation to Collins, who had established an American flag line of transatlantic steamers.

[3] Commentary from the Independent (August 21, 1851), 139. Quoted in Deborah Dependahl Waters, “‘Silver Ware in Great Perfection’: The Precious Metals Trades in New York City,” in Art in the Empire City New York, ed. Catherine Voorsanger and John K. Howat, 370 (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000).

[4] The interest in neo-Rococo was reinforced during the early 1850s, with the restoration of France’s Second Empire. See Debra Schmidt Bach, “Makers, Masters, and Manufacturers: Early Industrialization of the Silver Trade in Antebellum New York” (PhD Diss., Bard Graduate Center, 2014), 239.

[5] Moore continued to sell the grape pattern for presentation tea services through Ball, Black & Co., despite his exclusive manufacturing contract with Tiffany. Bach, “Makers, Masters, and Manufacturers,” 91.

[6] Gleason’s Pictorial (October 1, 1853), 213.