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The Green Tree: Highlights from the Collection of the Mutual Assurance Company of Philadelphia - April 2007
 
 
painting
 
Richard Humphreys
(American, 1750–1832)
Sugar Caster, c. 1775
Silver, 6 7/8 inches high
Stamped with maker’s mark on the bottom and on the inside:
“RH” in a patterned oval
References: Garvan and Wojtowicz 1977, 92–93, color pl.
RS 6357


The Philadelphia Quaker silversmith Richard Humphreys was born in Tortola in the West Indies and moved to the Colonies at an early age. He may have trained with Philip Syng, Jr., whose Front Street shop he took over in 1781. Humphreys was married at the Philadelphia Monthly Meeting in 1771, where records identified him as a goldsmith from Wilmington, Delaware. Humphreys made a tea urn for the Continental Congress in 1774 that is now considered the first neoclassical piece of silver made in the Colonies. He was disowned by the Philadelphia Monthly Meeting in the following year for participating in military training that later prepared him to serve as an officer during the American Revolution.

After the war Humphreys opened his shop at the “The Sign of the Coffee Pot” on Front Street and during the early 1780s made a salver and eating utensils for George Washington. He made amends with the Monthly Meeting in 1783 and became a leading member of the Society of Friends. He was also an early trustee of the Mutual Assurance Company. The silversmith maintained a shop in Philadelphia until he retired in 1806. Humphreys, whose father had owned slaves in Tortola, made a bequest that led to the formation of the Institute for Colored Youth, an organization dedicated to educating former slaves and preparing them for useful careers that was transferred to Cheney State College in 1902.

This George I-style, octagonal-faceted, baluster-form sugar caster is regarded as one of Humphreys’s finest pieces. Because its style had been in vogue about sixty years before he made it, it is likely that the caster was intended to replace a lost one from an earlier English set.


  


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