Collecting Delaware Books
Works of Delaware's colonial- and federal-period silversmiths are actively collected, and books about those silversmiths and their silver are equally interesting.
Before the 1830s, metallic money was not common in the United States. When gold or silver coins did come into someone's possession, they were often hoarded, because they were the most stable form of savings. One way to hoard silver coins was to have them made into spoons or hollowware, hence the term "coin silver."
Silversmiths were found in most cities. The craftsmen worked alone or with a few journeymen and apprentices at most. Payment from customers was often in a percentage of the silver brought in, just as millers were paid with a percentage of the grain.
Coin silver objects almost always bore the owner's monogram. They were also stamped with the silversmith's initials, name, or symbol. Silversmith's marks have been extensively cataloged. One standard reference is The Old Silver Book by Seymour Wyler. In addition, there are more detailed references on individual states.
All coin silver is valuable and collectible, however silver from small cities is most eagerly sought. Silver from Philadelphia, New York, or Boston is common. Silver from Wilmington, Delaware, West Chester, Pennsylvania, or Burlington, New Jersey, is much rarer and more desirable. There is one source of confusion: big-city craftsmen often fled the city during such things as yellow fever epidemics and set up shop in nearby smaller towns.
By the 1850s, coin silver was no longer fabricated by craftsmen, but factory made. The term merely meant a silver content of 90%. By the 1860s, the new "sterling silver" was fashionable. Sterling was 92.5% silver and scientifically alloyed for greater strength and longer wear. Coin silver was never again produced in quantity.
Silversmithing in Delaware has a long and fascinating history told in several books.
Silversmiths of Delaware 1700-1850 & Old Church Silver in Delaware by Jessie Harrington of Dover was published in a number edition of 300 copies in 1939 by the National Society of Colonial Dames of America in the State of Delaware. (There are several local organizations with similar names, leading to some confusion.) It is not known if there were any proof or author's copies in addition to the 300.
The book was printed by The Haddon Craftsmen, Inc., Camden, New Jersey. It is 9 1/4 by 6 inches, bound in red-brown cloth, and includes 10 pages of front matter and 132 pages of text. The 16 pages of photo-engravings are excellently printed as is the rest of the book.
The author discusses 33 silversmiths. Biographical information, where available, and descriptions of known works are included. The information came from many sources such as standard silver references, local histories, genealogies, public records, newspaper ads, and actual pieces of silver, however Miss Harrington does not provides notes as to sources.
A separate section describes the old communion silver of Delaware churches, whether it was locally made or not. Silver belonging to Holy Trinity (Old Swedes) Church, Wilmington Immanuel Church, New Castle Presbyterian Church, New Castle Christ Church, Dover St. Anne's Church, Middletown St. Peter's Church, Lewes Lewes Presbyterian Church, Lewes Old Drawyer, Odessa The Presbyterian Church, Dover Prince George's Chapel, Dagsborough Hundred and Old Christ Church, Broad Creek Hundred are listed.
The forward to the book is written by Mabel Lloyd Ridgely (Collecting Delaware Books vol. 2, no. 4) of Dover. She was head of the committee that commissioned the book. Her acknowledgments read like a list of Delaware old families and literary figures. Most interesting, the text was edited by Mrs. Christopher Ward.
Jessie Harrington's book is one of the rare gems of Delaware book collecting. It fetches several hundred dollars in collectible condition.
Delaware Silversmiths 1700-1850 by Ruthanna Hindes was issued in the usual wraps as volume XII, number 4 of Delaware History, the magazine of the Historical Society of Delaware, in October 1967. The article constituted the sole content of the issue. It was also available as a hardbound offprint, similar in appearance to the Harrington book.
At the time it was written, Hindes was archivist in charge of special projects at the Eleutherian Mills Historical Library. Her interest in silver, however, stemmed from her 12 years with the Historical Society of Delaware as assistant librarian and librarian. She also did silversmithing as a hobby.
The 62 pages of text, four pages of front matter, and 22 unnumbered pages of photo-engravings cover 51 silversmith's. Though she acknowledges and praises the Harrington book, Hindes quickly moves beyond it with more accurate and complete information. She is also careful to note sources.
The illustrations are especially useful for their photographs of the silversmith's marks inset into the excellent photos of the silver itself.
The hardbound book is a desirable collectible and the necessary reference for silver collectors. It was being sold for $26 in the late 1970s by the historical society. The softbound version brings more than that today.
In 1981, volume XIX, number 3 of Delaware History carried the 29-page article "Delaware Silversmiths, 1728-1880" by Ruthanna Hindes. It was described as an "update, continuation, or addition" to the previous article. Six 18th-century silversmiths are newly identified, including one practicing in Kent County by 1728. There are 75 others practicing from 1850-1880 who were primarily dealers. They are included so their marks can be identified and distinguished from the marks of earlier craftsman silversmiths.
This issue of Delaware History is wanted by silver collectors and generally brings a higher price than other back issues.