On the heels of the victory of the War of 1912, the growing interest in classical Roman and Greek art provided a visual vocabulary to reinforce the democratic ideals of the new republic. Such models from antiquity were used to create an illusion of a deeper and richer history for the young country.

In its function as a military commemorative object and its use of classical references, such as the eagle motif, the Gale and Moseley coffee urn stands as a prime example of this neoclassical style in the early nineteenth century.

The Ninth Regiment of the New York State Artillery commissioned the urn as a presentation piece for their departing commander, Samuel J. Hunt. The urn’s cartouche reads: “Presented by the Officers of the / NINTH REG. OF N.Y.S. ARTILLERY / to / Col. Samuel J. Hunt / their late Commandant in token of / their respect & esteem / 1829.” Above the cartouche, in a horizontal scrolled parchment, are the additional words: “HONOR VIRTUTIS PRAEMIUM” (Honor is the Reward for Virtue).

The coffee urn stands as a striking example of silver craftsmanship using meticulously applied castings (molten metal poured into a mold) and repoussé (a raised pattern created by hammering the reverse side of the metal). Perched on top of the urn is an eagle finial with outstretched wings; its left talon grasps a miniature cannon lying across a bed of acanthus leaves. This eagle is a representation of authority and the American republic. Other firms, such as Whartenby and Bumm and Fletcher and Gardiner, also incorporated eagle finials. The cannon and the eagle-talon feet gripping cannon balls are references to Hunt’s command of the artillery unit. And the shield that contains a single star in the upper band and thirteen vertical stripes represents the thirteen colonies.

In addition to being a presentation piece, a vessel of this type could accommodate different types of beverages, including coffee, as Feay Shellman Coleman discusses: “Both functional and ceremonial, the urn was used at family meals, particularly breakfast. If the family preferred tea, the urn was filled with water that was in turn emptied into the teapot. If coffee was the beverage of choice, the cups were filled from the urn.”1 Michael E. Crane

Adapted from Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 81, nos. 1­–2 (2007): 14–15.

Note
1. F. S. Coleman, Nostrums for Fashionable Entertainments: Dining in Georgia, 1800–1850 (Savannah , 1992), 100. This information was supplied to the DIA by Catherine Hoover Voorsanger of the Metropolitan Museum of Art during loan correspondence for the urn, which was included in the 2000 exhibition Art and the Empire City: New York, 1825–1861.
Artist Gale and Moseley, American, active: 1828 - 1833
Title
  • Coffee Urn
  • Hotwater Urn (alternate title)
Date 1829
Medium silver
Dimensions Overall: 17 5/8 × 11 3/8 × 11 3/4 inches (44.8 × 28.9 × 29.8 cm)
Credit Line Founders Society Purchase, Edward E. Rothman Fund, Mrs. Charles Theron Van Dusen Fund, and the Gibbs-Williams Fund:
Accession Number 1999.3
Department American Art before 1950
On View American W271, Level 2 (see map)
Marks Stamped, underside: G & M, a striding lion, crowned head, [profile head]
Inscriptions Engraved, on side, in cartouche: Presented by the Officers of the | NINTH REG.T OF N.Y.S. ARTILLERY | TO | (Col. Samuel J. Hunt) | their late Commandant in token of | their respect & esteem | 1829
Engraved, on side in a ribbon above cartouche: HONOR VIRTUTIS (PROMIUM)
1993-present, purchase by the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)
"American Decorative Arts Acquisitions 1985-2005." Bulletin of the DIA, 81, 1-2 (2007): pp. 14-15, 70.