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Philadelphia Silversmiths Collection

 Collection
Identifier: SIL
This collection houses documents relating to two Philadelphia silversmith families, though there is only one letter in the Richardson family series. The Humphrey family material pertains predominantly to members of the family rather than their trade. It contains two pieces of correspondence, a number of Quaker marriage certificates, recipe books, one deed of land tenancy and the last words and a memorandum of Richard Humphreys. The single item that speaks most to the trade of Richard Humphreys is a document describing the “rules to be observed in weighing gold hydrostatically.”

Dates

  • Majority of material found within 1765 - 1832

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research

Conditions Governing Use

The Philadelphia Silversmiths Collection is the physical property of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives. The Museum holds literary rights only for material created by Museum personnel or given to the Museum with such rights specifically assigned. For all other material, literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. Researchers are responsible for obtaining permission from rights holders for publication and for other purposes where stated.

Extent

2 linear feet

Biographical / Historical

The Humphreys and Richardson families were both Quaker silversmiths in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Richard Humphreys was a Quaker born on the island of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands in 1750. He was sent to Philadelphia as a young man to apprentice as a silversmith, possibly with Philip Syng Jr. In 1772 Humphreys went into business on his own. That September the Pennsylvania Gazette published Humphreys’ announcement that he was taking over Syng’s shop. It was accompanied by a recommendation of Humphreys on the part of the former shop owner. Two years later he distinguished himself with a commission from the First Continental Congress to craft a tea urn that was to be presented to its first secretary, Charles Thomson. This work is considered to be the first object made in America in the Neoclassical style. It is now in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Forsaking his Quaker pacifism, Richard Humphreys served as an officer during the Revolutionary War. He was criticized by the Philadelphia Monthly Meeting but later returned to his Quaker beliefs and was an active member of the Society of Friends until the end of his life.

When Richard Humphreys moved to Philadelphia he came with his brother Thomas who apprenticed to become a tanner and married Sarah Clark in 1774. Richard married Hannah Elliott in 1771. A year after her death in 1773, he was remarried to Ann Morris. She was the daughter of Daniel and Tacy Morris. In 1765, however, Tacy had been remarried to Hugh Forbes. Ann and Richard had three children: Thomas, Tacy and Hannah. In 1800 Hannah married James Cresson. Hannah and James had four children: Ann, Tacy, Hannah, James and Martha Warner.

Richard Humphreys died on February 5, 1832. He left an estate of over $90,000 and entrusted $10,000 of that sum to thirteen members of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting for the establishment of a school for African Americans in Philadelphia. This institution eventually developed into what is now Cheyney University.

The Richardson family passed their craft down through three generations. Francis Richardson (1684-1729) moved to Philadelphia from New York City as a child and became the first of the Richardson silversmiths. Two of his sons took up the trade, Francis Jr. (1705-1782) and Joseph (1711-1784). The elder son eventually left the family business, but Joseph became an important Philadelphia silversmith.

Joseph had eight children, two of whom followed the family tradition of silverwork: Joseph Jr. (1752-1831) and Nathaniel (1754-1827). They worked together in the firm Joseph and Nathaniel Richardson from 1785-1797. Joseph Jr. would later partner with James Howell under the firm title Richardson and Co. In 1795, George Washington appointed Joseph Richardson Jr. as Assayer of the Mint. Though he had eight children, none of them became silversmiths.

Custodial History

Most of the material that now forms the Philadelphia Silversmiths Collection came to the archives through a transfer from the Prints, Drawings and Photographs Department. The recipe books came from the American Arts Department along with a transfer in the summer of 2012. All Humphreys family material came to the Philadelphia Museum of Art through a 1979 gift from Gainor E. Roberts. The Richardson family material came through a 1966 gift from Frances Richardson.

Repository Details

Part of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Library and Archives Repository

Contact:
Philadelphia Museum of Art
PO Box 7646
Philadelphia PA 19101-7646 United States