04 - Baltimore Firsts - Oldest surviving American Silverware maker



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In 1815 Samuel Kirk started what was to become the longest lasting silversmith in America.




In August 1815, Samuel Kirk, at the age of 22, opened a small store on Market Street in Baltimore and entered into a partnership with John Smith which continued until 1820. With Samuel Kirk's son, Henry Child Kirk, becoming a partner in 1846 the firm's name was changed to Samuel Kirk & Son. Two other sons of Samuel Kirk, Charles D. and Clarence E. Kirk were admitted as partners in 1861 and the firm name was changed to Samuel Kirk & Sons. In 1868, the latter two brothers left the firm and the name was changed back to Samuel Kirk & Son. Samuel Kirk died in 1872, leaving Henry Child Kirk to work alone until 1890 when his only son, Henry Child Kirk, Jr., joined the firm as a partner. Henry Child Kirk, Sr. formed a corporation and the firm name was changed to Samuel Kirk & Son Company. In 1924, the firm's name was changed to Samuel Kirk & Son, Inc. In 1979 The Stieff Company purchased Samuel Kirk & Son, Inc. and changed the firm's name to The Kirk Stieff Company. Today, Kirk is a wholly owned subsidiary of Lenox, Inc. In 1990 the Stieff Company was acquired by Lennox Corporation, a subsidiary of Brown-Foreman. All production in Baltimore ceased in 1999 and production of most items under the Kirk Stieff name are outsourced. The old factory has been turned into offices.

The USS Maryland Silver Service from State of Maryland archives
This beautiful silver service was a gift from the people of Maryland to the armored cruiser the USS Maryland in 1906. A distinctive masterpiece of silversmithing, the service was designed and wrought by Samuel Kirk and Son, Inc. of Baltimore. Over $5,000 was raised from citizens and school children all over the state to pay for it. The ornamentation on each piece represents an historic structure, event, or product of one of the 23 counties and Baltimore City. The punch bowl depicts the battle of Fort McHenry in the War of 1812.

When the new battleship USS Maryland was commissioned in 1921, the service was transferred to her. The ship fought victoriously during WW II and was decommissioned shortly after the war. The silver service was returned to the state to go on display. In 1992, the submarine USS Maryland (SSBN 738) was commissioned, and four pieces of the Maryland Silver Service were placed aboard her.

From the Maryland History & Culture Bibliography

Although the late emergence of towns and preference for English goods delayed extensive silversmithing in Maryland, members of the Bruff family of Talbot County made silver throughout the eighteenth century. Annapolis supported several immigrant craftsmen before the Revolution, including Philip Syng, Sr. (fl. 1730-39) from Philadelphia and John Inch (fl. 1743-1763). Baltimore did not become a major silversmithing center until after the Revolution, when dozens of craftsmen, principally from Philadelphia or abroad, took advantage of the flourishing market. Leading silversmiths including William Ball (fl. 1763-1815), George Aiken (1765-1832), Standish Barry (1763-1844), Charles Louis Boehme (1774-1868), Littleton Holland (c.1780-1847), and John Lynch (1761-1848) made silver strongly influenced by Philadelphia work. In the 1810s, silversmithing became more and more concentrated in the city of Baltimore and in the hands of a few key craftsmen. The Baltimore Assay Office, established in 1814, had the negative effect of making local silver more expensive. The most renowned of Maryland's silversmiths, Philadelphia-trained Samuel Kirk (fl. 1813-1872), came to Baltimore in 1815, founding nation's longest lived silversmithing company. Kirk's artistic and technological innovations plus his genius for marketing resulted in enormous success. In the 1820s, Kirk introduced a new taste which became synonymous with Baltimore silver: the repoussť style. Featuring naturalistic ornament and landscape scenes, the popular style was also made by Kirk's competitors, including Andrew Ellicott Warner (fl. 1805-1870), a member of a prominent local silversmithing family whose career spanned seven decades.

Repousse designates the technique of pushing out sculptural forms from within the silver vessel and then defining them further with exterior chasing. During the Rococo Revival in mid-nineteenth century Baltimore silversmiths utilized this technique to its fullest extent, whether the decoration was floral, foliate, architectural, figural or a combination. Baltimore repousse' silver became very popular in this period and continued to be made well into this century when the scarcity of craftsmen and the rising cost of labor after World War II effectively terminated this exuberant form of silver decoration.




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