The Significance of a Paul Revere Teapot

Continuing with a look at silver teapots, the most famous of our American silversmiths is, of course, Paul Revere Jr., who lived in this relatively modest house in Boston.

Paul Revere house_web

Immortalized in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1860 poem, we all know how Paul Revere rode to Lexington to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock about approaching British troops. If it weren’t for the poem, however, we may not be so familiar with his name.

During his own lifetime, Revere was known far more for his gold and silver work rather than his “midnight ride.” He was an incredibly busy man, establishing multiple businesses in addition to his silver shop; he was also an activist, illustrator, dentist, and father of 16 children!

In 1783, he made this silver mug—or cann—for Elias Hasket Derby and his wife Elizabeth (image from The Met). This cann, a “pear- or tulip-shaped drinking vessel with scroll handle and circular foot” (The Met), is graceful, with organic lines, and demonstrates Revere’s impeccable craftsmanship.

Paul Revere cann

Revere also made tea ware, including teapots, which were considered among the most difficult pieces to make.

Shown here in John Singleton Copley’s 1768 portrait (Gandalf’s Gallery), Revere thoughtfully holds an unfinished teapot, perhaps contemplating what he plans to inscribe on it.

portrait Paul Revere_web

However, in 1768, when this portrait was painted—at a time when tea carried a hefty tax—teapots were not as esteemed as they are today. In fact, according to the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Revere made only a handful of teapots in over a decade:

  • 1762–1765, 6 teapots
  • 1768, 1 teapot
  • 1773, 2 teapots

Further, in 1773, he was part of those meetings plotting against the East India Company Tea!

teapot stand

Why, then, did Copley have Revere hold an unfinished teapot rather than something less fraught?

Exactly because it was a teapot, of course!

This is why historical context is so imperative. Revere is not thinking about possible inscriptions for the teapot at hand. Rather:

The date inscribed on the painting—1768—enhances the iconographic significance of the teapot, both as an aesthetic and a political symbol. . . . The teapot, then, was a provocative attribute for Revere, especially given his radical Whig politics. (Museum of Fine Arts Boston)

Or as Gandalf’s Gallery posits, the painting was actually:

an encoded story. . . . With a complicit sitter, Copley created a portrait that reaches beyond biography (the usual province of portraiture) and conveys a message that would have been understood and appreciated by those who saw the painting.

The power of a teapot!

In Copley’s painting, the teapot is not simply a brewing vessel that showcases Revere’s incredible craftsmanship. Rather, it’s symbol, statement, stand.

pineapple finial

So where does that put reproduction teapots? What do they say? I’ll take a look at the Paul Revere reproduction shown here in my next post.

Gandalf’s Gallery, John Singleton Copley–Paul Revere (1768).
Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Paul Revere.
–The Met, “Cann,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–2021.
–The Met, “Teapot stand,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–2021.
The Paul Revere House, Paul Revere Memorial Association, 2020.

See related posts:

Silver and Silver-plated Teapots Still Shine

Paul Revere Teapot Reproductions

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