MCNY Blog: New York Stories

Iconic photos of a changing city, and commentary on our Collections & Exhibitions from the crew at MCNY.org

How a Colonial Relic Became a Civil War Memento: Tracing Object History in the Silver Collection

Over the course of digitizing the Museum’s silver collection, we’ve come across many objects with storied histories, but not many can weave a historical path through our collection with the same affinity as this ca. 1750 tankard by Jacob Hurd. As we close out Women’s History Month, the tankard leads us to yet another influential group of women whose impact is documented in our collection.

Jacob Hurd was born in 1702 or 1703 in Charlestown, now part of Boston. He began working as a silversmith as early as 1723 and quickly garnered the attention of Colonial elites, who typically preferred silver from England. Hurd specialized in elegant, traditional and functional forms like the tankard shown below. Despite his prolific career and success in attracting wealthy clients, Hurd died heavily in debt, in 1758.

 

Jacob Hurd (1702 or 1703-1758). Tankard. ca. 1750. Museum of the City of New York. 34.297.1

Jacob Hurd (1702 or 1703-1758). Tankard. ca. 1750. Museum of the City of New York. 34.297.1

 

John Lester Wallack, actor, director, stage manager and owner of the eponymous Wallack’s Theatre, acquired the tankard in 1864 as a gift for donating his time and theatrical talents to the Metropolitan Fair. The Metropolitan Fair took place in New York in April 1864 for the benefit of the United States Sanitary Commission (USSC).

 

Sarony. Lester Wallack as Elliott Grey in "Rosedale". ca. 1871. Museum of the City of New York. 41.367.5

Sarony. Lester Wallack as Elliott Grey in “Rosedale”. ca. 1871. Museum of the City of New York. 41.367.5

 

W. Wilson. Wallack's Theatre, Broadway and 13th Street. ca. 1874. Museum of the City of New York. 38.419.5

W. Wilson. Wallack’s Theatre, Broadway and 13th Street. ca. 1874. Museum of the City of New York. 38.419.5

 

The USSC was formed to help soldiers in the United States Army who sustained injuries in the Civil War. When President Lincoln called for troops on April 15, 1861, women in Bridgeport and Charlestown organized respective groups with the aim of providing war relief. Just days later, women in Lowell and Cleveland established similar associations. On April 25, a group of women met at  Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell’s New York Infirmary for Women to organize war relief efforts. Dr. Blackwell was the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States, and was a regarded social and moral reformer.

Dana (1852-1897. Elizabeth Blackwell. ca. 1885. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.58.112

Dana (1852-1897. [Elizabeth Blackwell.] ca. 1885 (probably a reproduction.) Museum of the City of New York. F2012.58.112

W. Roberts. Second Avenue and St. Mark's Place [First Avenue to Third Avenue.] Woman's Medical College of the New York Infirmary. 128 Second Avenue. ca. 1870. Scrapbook compiled 1890-1934. Museum of the City of New York. X2012.61.27.20

W. Roberts. Second Avenue and St. Mark’s Place [First Avenue to Third Avenue.] Woman’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary. 128 Second Avenue. ca. 1870. Scrapbook compiled 1890-1934. Museum of the City of New York. X2012.61.27.20

The Woman’s Central Association of Relief (WCAR) formed as a result of this meeting, and the Reverend Henry W. Bellows was named its Chairman of the Executive Committee.

 

Alexander Hay Ritchie (1822-1895). Rev. Henry W. Bellows D.D. 1855-1885. Museum of the City of New York. X2012.57.40

Alexander Hay Ritchie (1822-1895). Rev. Henry W. Bellows D.D. 1855-1885. Museum of the City of New York. X2012.57.40

 

Bellows recognized the need for a larger organization to coordinate medical services and supply donations. The USSC was officially recognized by the government on June 9; WCAR became a supply branch of the USSC on June 24. Throughout the war, WCAR and USSC played pivotal roles in the care of wounded soldiers and their families.

 

U.S. Sanitary Commission. ca. 1863. Museum of the City of New York. 45.374.3

U.S. Sanitary Commission. ca. 1863. Museum of the City of New York. 45.374.3

 

The amateur theatrical performances organized by Wallack took place in Leonard Jerome’s private theater. The Metropolitan Fair raised an impressive $1 million for the U.S. Sanitary Commission.

 

Photographer unknown. Leonard Jerome house. ca. 1875. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.4392

Photographer unknown. Leonard Jerome house. ca. 1875. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.4392

The tankard then passed hands to famed theatrical costumer Henry Dazian. Dazian amassed a notable theater collection during his career. In 1934, he donated part of this collection to the Museum.

imls_logo_2cThe Jacob Hurd tanker was digitized thanks to the generous grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Louis & Virginia Clemente Foundation, and Henry Luce Foundation.

About Lauren Robinson

Digital Projects Cataloger

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