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Stories in Sterling: Four Centuries of Silver in New York

May 4 - September 23, 2012


Through September 23, 2012, the New-York Historical Society is presenting Stories in Sterling: Four Centuries of Silver in New York, an exhibition highlighting the histories of 150 notable examples of silver from its collection. Linked to significant moments in the history of New York and the United States, the remarkable objects in the exhibition range from domestic family heirlooms to acknowledged touchstones in the evolution of American silversmithing. The diversity of stories speak to themes that include individual accomplishment, family pride, silver consumption patterns, technological progress and innovation, rituals of presentation, and the commemoration of great events in peace and war.

These compelling objects are interpreted within a cultural context, focusing on the men and women that made, used, and treasured them. Featured objects span four centuries: from a Dutch silver beaker made for a member of the Van Rensselaer family in 1598, to a Hanukkah lamp crafted in a Bronx, NY workshop in 1999. The exhibition will be enriched by a selection of paintings, prints, photographs, manuscripts, furniture, and other items that illuminate the silver, bring to life the individuals who acquired it, and illustrate the physical context in which it was used.

"We're thrilled to be able to share our silver collection -- a true treasure of the New-York Historical Society -- with a wider audience through Stories in Sterling," stated Louise Mirrer, President and CEO of the New-York Historical Society. "This exhibition is more than a display of objects -- it is an exploration of four centuries of New York culture through the lens of silver objects, appealing to scholars and enthusiasts of silver, material culture, and New York history alike."

Stories in Sterling is comprised of seven sections:

"Converging Cultures in Colonial New York" explores how immigrant silversmiths, along with silver brought by émigrés from their native countries, influenced New York's vibrant craft community. Highlights include the silver seal of Peter Stuyvesant and pieces made by New York's first Jewish silversmith, Myer Myers.
"From Craft to Industry" examines the shifts in practices -- from the small shop tradition to partial outsourcing of work, and finally to industrialized production, including silverplating -- that characterized the development of American silver between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries.
"Honoring Achievement" explores the time-honored tradition of awarding accomplishments with the presentation of a silver object through some of the most spectacular pieces in the New-York Historical Society's collection, including the massive dinner service presented by the merchants of New York to Commodore Matthew Perry after he opened trade with Japan in 1854.
"Rites of Passage" includes more private presentations, those that honor birth, marriage, death, or represent exchanges between individuals, such as funeral rings and spoons given to the mourners of the deceased.
"Drinking in Style" investigates silver used for drinking alcoholic beverages, from tankards and mugs to punch bowls and hip flasks.
"The Rituals of Tea and Coffee" explores the surging popularity of these beverages in early New York and reveals how ownership and proper usage of silver tea and coffee wares served as an index of social refinement.
"Elegant Dining" examines the changing etiquette of formal dining as silver became affordable to more and more Americans. Highlights include an extravagant Tiffany & Co. ice cream dish, one of two from the 1,250 piece service made for Marie Louise Mackay in 1877.

Curated by Margaret K. Hofer, Curator of Decorative Arts, New-York Historical Society, with Debra Schmidt Bach, Associate Curator of Decorative Arts, New-York Historical Society, the exhibition is accompanied by a 350 page, full color catalogue published in conjunction with D Giles Limited, London. Available in hardcover and softcover, the catalogue includes illustrated essays by Kenneth L. Ames, David L. Barquist, and Margaret K. Hofer and entries featuring objects in the exhibition.

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