Thursday, March 30, 2006

To the Editor...

I found this letter to the Editor glued to the endpaper of a copy of the 1903 edition of Buck's "Old Plate" from the reference library of Shreve, Crump & Low. I find this sort of old ephemera fascinating- a rare glimpse into the everyday lives of the early collectors as they growsed and grumbled. The letter-writer, Francis Hill Bigelow, was one of the most important early collectors and students of Colonial American silver in the early decades of the 20th century. Can anyone imagine such a letter being written or printed today?

Vandalism of Modern Jeweller - Abuse of the "Buffing" Process - Makers' Marks Obliterated

To the Editor of the Transcript:

The ruination by the modern jeweller of so much of the beautiful early silver made by the Colonial craftsmen in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is simply vandalism. For more than ten years I have devoted my time and attention to the subject, trying to identify the makers names from the marks which appear on the vessels, and which is so important from the historical point of view. I have been privileged to examine not only the church silver, but a very large number of domestic pieces in private hands which are priceless relics of the past. The beautiful blue color which alone comes from age and hand cleaning is being ruthlessley destroyed by the modern jeweller, whose one ambition is to make the vessels look like tin! The "buffing" process removes the surface, and the makers' marks, of such great value to the investigator, are so rubbed off as to be indistinguishable. The commercial value is destroyed by at least one-half, and the sentimental value also suffers when the initials of the original owners are obliterated.

Such a flagrant case perpetrated by these malefactors -for such they are- has recently come to my attention, that I must make special mention of it. One of the choicest lots of old family silver which I have ever seen I examined a few years ago in its original condition. This most unfortunately was left in a jeweller's hands to clean. The result is most disheartening, and it would never be recognized as the same lot. It is the perfection of "shine," in which the jeweller revels, but alas! the makers' marks of the seventeenth century are all but obliterated. Will the modern jeweller ever learn what art is?

If the jewellers ever hold a convention in Boston, it is to be hoped that they will go en masse to the Museum of Fine Artsand see the beautiul old silver which has been gathered there. A special case containing the pieces upon which they have wrought their havoc should be especially prepared for them to gaze upon also.

To send your family portraits to a house painter for restoration would be no greater outrage than to send old silver to the modern jeweller without instructions not to "buff" it. If silver is badly tarnished, one or two applications of a harsher metal polish used for brass or copper will, with a little patience remove the worst of the tarnish, when silver polish should be used. Camphor placed with silver when packed will prevent tarnish.

Francis Hill Bigelow
Channing st, Cambridge,Mass., June 2, 1916.

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