Made in Philadelphia, Gifts that Gleam: Stories in Silver

"Workshop of the world," was a description coined in the early 1900s, to recognize Philadelphia's reputation as an industrial manufacturing center. Its fame rests on the skills and versatility of its workers who produced a variety of quality products from toys to locomotives.

How do you honor an achievement? Celebrate a milestone? Show respect?

The second exhibition installed in the Museum’s Made in Philadelphia gallery since the Museum’s reopening, Gifts that Gleam: Stories in Silver, is on view beginning October 29, 2013. The exhibition tells the story of how silver has been used by Philadelphians for over three hundred years to recognize achievement, mark important events in individual lives, and express affection and admiration for individuals and deeds.

Explore the exhibition to see how the city, its corporations, and its well-to-do citizens recognized, honored, and celebrated in the 1700s and 1800s. That was when expensive silver—crafted by Philadelphia’s renowned silversmiths and inscribed with heartfelt messages—was the way to say, “I care, thank you, or congratulations.”

These glimmering gifts reveal stories about the people who gave or received them and the city in which they lived.

Silver objects, drawn exclusively from the Museum’s collection, include a miniature blacksmith’s anvil, dating to 1913, given to John Wanamaker on his 75th birthday from the heads of departments at the New York Wanamaker’s (at Broadwayand 8th Streets). Also on view is a Cricketer Batting Cup from 1879 made by J. E. Caldwell & Co., and given as a gift to the Germantown Cricket Club and the Associated Cricket Clubs.  The first cricket club formed at Haverford in 1834, and within 40 years there were more than 100 clubs in the area. There are so many names on this cup —honoring Philadelphia’s finest cricket players from 1879 to 1926—that they are even inscribed on the bottom. Objects dedicated to giving for the sake of posterity are also presented, such as on view and include a serving fork made by Bailey, Banks, & Biddle ca. 1870.

Highlights of the exhibition include the only American-made silver presentation sword commissioned by the Continental Congress; the Libertas Americana medal commissioned by Benjamin Franklin in Paris to thank France for assisting in the battles of Saratoga and Yorktown, and an urn by Harvey Lewis to honor Frederick Graff for the design and completion of the Waterworks at Fairmount. It was a gift from the city in 1822. In honor of the 125th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, the Museum will exhibit a Congressional Medal of Honor received for valor at the battle and designed at the US Mint in Philadelphia. Objects on view are by noted Philadelphia silversmiths such as Bailey & Co., Fletcher & Gardiner, JE Caldwell & Co., the Thibault Brothers, and the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia.

The exhibition also features a video of exhibition organizer and Philadelphia History Museum Senior Curator Jeffrey Ray. Ray talks candidly about what inspired him to do an exhibit on silver, how his thoughts developed and grew, and why Philadelphia was an important center for the craft of the silversmith. An interactive Explore More iPad, also located in the gallery, allows visitors to increase their knowledge about the objects on display.

The exhibition runs through June 2014. 

This exhibition was organized by the History Museum's Senior Curator Jeffrey Ray.