Cincinnati Silver Tableware Still Shines 200 Years Later
These twist-handle coin silver forks with bright cut engraving clearly show a distinctive Cincinnati style. They were made and sold by Duhme & Co. in the mid-19th century, and brought $287.50 for the group at a May 2005 auction. (Photo courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions, Inc., Cincinnati, Ohio)
When Cincinnati’s first settlers arrived in 1788, they dreamed of establishing a trade center along the water highway of the Ohio River. Their primary concern was continuing hostilities with the Indian tribes who had lost their hunting grounds in Kentucky and were determined not to be pushed further west by new waves of white settlers. Troubles with the Indians were resolved after the signing of the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, and the Ohio territory opened for permanent settlement
With permanent settlement came an influx of silversmiths, jewelers, watchmakers and clockmakers from cities in the East, the British Isles, France and Germany, bringing with them refinements such as jewelry and silver spoons to what would soon be called “The Queen City of the West.” While some accounts circa 1798 claim that Cincinnati’s first silversmith was Celedon Symmes—nephew of John Cleves Symmes—the Torrence Manuscripts in the Cincinnati Historical Society provide a 1793 listing for “John Whitesides, Silversmith,” which indicates he was most likely the city’s earliest silversmith.
The earliest Cincinnati silver examples were primitive spoons and ladles (forks were not seen until early in the 19th century). These followed the Eastern styles with “coffin” shaped ends. Next came the distinctive, small bowl with a “fiddle” handle, a shape that evolved from the 1830s through the 1850s, when an exaggerated hourglass shape terminating in a wide rounded end was seen.
In the 1850s, twist-handled flatware began to appear, made by the Kinseys, Duhme & Co., C. Oskamp and C. Hellebush. First seen in the 17th century, this style became very popular and was made for many years, as evidenced by the large quantity that still exists today. Duhme & Co. made and retailed complete sets of twist-handled flatware, some plain and some with bright cut engraved decoration. These two styles—the exaggerated “fiddle” shape—and the twist handle, are considered by some to be the most easily recognized and distinctive Cincinnati styles. After the Civil War, silver hollow ware appeared with greater frequency, with Duhme & Co. as the largest producer.
A W. McCrew Cincinnati coin silver ladle in “Fiddle & Thread” pattern with fluted, squared bowl, could be had for around $230. (Photo courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions, Inc., Cincinnati, Ohio)
Perhaps the most prolific Cincinnati silversmiths of the pre-Civil war period were Edward (1810-1865) and David (1819-1874) Kinsey. Edward Kinsey lived first in Newport, Ky., before moving to Cincinnati and by 1836 had his own silver manufactory, employing many other silversmiths and producing both flatware and hollow ware.
In addition to the many fine silversmiths who worked in Cincinnati during the 19th century, many local jewelers imported their wares from silver companies across the country and marketed them under their own company name. Duhme & Co., which manufactured enormous quantities of silver on premises, also retailed silver from other manufacturers, as did The Loring Andrews Company and The Frank Herschede Company. As an example, silver hollow ware might have a backstamp for the Dominick & Haff Company and a retailer’s stamp for Duhme or Herschede’s. Silver retailed by The Loring Andrews Company is of the highest quality, and has a dedicated following of serious collectors for its distinctive repousse patterns. Although it is not certain, evidence suggests that most of its wares were made by Kirk and other Baltimore-area silversmiths and retailed under the Loring Andrews name.
A Cincinnati coin silver hot water kettle made by E.D. Kinsey, circa 1844-61, engraved with Rococo stylized flowers and scrolling leaves, with center monogrammed reserve, mounted on a footed base with molded ornate rim and center burner. If sold at auction earlier this year for $8,225. (Photo courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions, Inc., Cincinnati, Ohio)
Some other names which figure prominently in the history of early Cincinnati silver include Joseph Beggs (1836-1861); Samuel Best (1802-1818); H. Blakesley (1829-1836); Richard Clayton (1834-1859), who was also a balloonist; Peleg Collins (1820-1850); W. & A. Cooper (1835-1837); Jacob Deterly (1812-1833); Joseph Draper (1832-1856); Herman Duhme (1842-1888); Clemens Hellebush (1866-1893); Edward H. Hill (1839-1873); Abraham Palmer (1834-1859); Thomas (1832-1836) and James (1844-1856) Rhodes (1844-1856); Bushnell Willey (1834-1837); and Enos Woodruff (1813-1834). See Elizabeth D. Beckman’s “Cincinnati Silversmiths, Jewelers, Watch and Clockmakers” for a more complete listing.
Collecting Cincinnati Silver
This matching set of four coin silver goblets, all marked Kinsey, were sold at an October 2005 auction for $2,300. (Photo courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions, Inc., Cincinnati, Ohio)
The best way to begin a collection of Cincinnati silver is the same as beginning any kind of collection. Visit museums, exhibitions or auctions and examine objects “hands on” to become familiar with styles and maker marks. Some fine examples of early Cincinnati silver are on display at the Cincinnati Art Museum and other examples may be available for examination and purchase at local auctions. A great reference on the subject is Beckman’s in-depth study titled “Cincinnati Silversmiths, Jewelers, Watch and Clockmakers,” which was privately published in 1975 but is out of print. It may be available in some libraries, from rare book dealers or on the Internet.
A good place for the beginning collector to start is with simple “fiddle-shape” coin silver spoons. These are be available at very reasonable prices for savvy Internet shoppers, perhaps for as little as $31 for six E&D Kinsey coin silver spoons as seen at auction in 2008. A larger piece such as a soup ladle can be purchased for $200-$400, unless it is by a little known maker. Simple beakers or julep cups may be available for $300-$400 each, largely determined by style, embellishments such as beading or engraving, and scarcity of the maker. Hollow ware pieces such as goblets, teapots and pitchers, are much harder to find and will require a much more serious financial commitment, likely several thousand dollars.
This elaborate repousse sterling silver punch bowl was retailed by The Loring Andrews Company of Cincinnati in the early 20th century, and brought $9,200 in February 2006.
As with any antique purchase, condition is a primary consideration. Silver, which has been in existence (and in use?) for 150-plus years, is expected to show wear, but spoons with no “tips” or edges, ones in which one side of the bowl is worn down (most often seen on the left side due to use by a right handed user), or ones with very thin shanks prone to breakage, should be avoided. Although repairs may be performed by a reputable silver restoration firm, such procedures are costly and many collectors prefer to leave their purchases in “as found” condition.
Dr. Wes Cowan is founder and owner of Cowan’s Auctions, Inc. in Cincinnati, Ohio. An internationally recognized expert in historic Americana, Wes stars in the PBS television series “History Detectives” and is a featured appraiser on “Antiques Roadshow.” He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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