When most think of Paul Revere, they first think of his midnight ride immortalized in verse by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. That event secured Revere’s spot in American history as the consummate patriot, but when he made his historic ride, he was better known as the preeminent silversmith of his day — a fact many are unaware of today. However, Revere’s revolutionary heroics have never overshadowed his considerable skill in silversmithing.
Who Was Paul Revere?Paul Revere Jr. was born to Apollos Revoire, or Paul Revere Sr., in Boston in 1734. His father emigrated alone to colonial Boston in 1715 at age 13. Of French Huguenot origin, he was apprenticed for ten years to the highly skilled goldsmith John Coney under whom he developed great skill and a keen eye for design. He eventually opened his own goldsmithing shop under the anglicized name “Paul Revere,” where he would pass on his knowledge to his son, Paul Revere Jr. The younger Revere apprenticed under his father and was described as serious and hard-working. In 1754, when Revere was 19, his father passed away leaving him his trade.
By the 1760s, Revere had built up a thriving silver shop. The scope of Revere’s talent as a master silversmith was wide; he made everything from buttons for artisans, communion dishes for churches and tea sets and salvers for Boston's elite. He was one of the few American smiths who could complete a work from raw ingot to finished item, including the engraving. It was this skill that earned him work decorating pieces for other silversmiths, including engraving the plates used for Massachusetts' earliest paper money.
What Did Paul Revere Make Out of Silver?
Revere’s products varied, but he was largely known for his flatware (mainly spoons) and tablewares such as cups, tankards, porringers, salts, casters, trays and bowls. He also created tea and coffee services such as coffee and teapots, creamers, sugar tongs and sugar urns. He even made diminutive personal items such as buttons.
A Patriot is Born
Revere’s business was disrupted repeatedly by the political unrest leading up to the Revolutionary War. England was heavily taxing the American colonists in order to pay off her debt incurred during the French and Indian War. This put a squeeze on the economy and had a negative impact on Revere’s shop. At the time, a complete sterling silver tea set could cost as much as half the price of a house, and many could no longer afford such luxury items due to the Crown’s taxation. As a serious craftsman and businessman, he felt a duty to help his country find manufacturing economic freedom. His work would ultimately be both influenced and aided by his young nation’s growing pains.
It was Revere’s silversmithing and his aspirations for the future of his business that largely motivated him to become involved in the Revolution. His involvement would prove to be crucial in a plethora of ways beyond his midnight ride. For instance, the working classes looked to him for leadership, and he acted as a liaison between them and more visible figures like Samuel Adams or John Hancock. His expertise in silver came in handy as well, in particular his aforementioned engraving skills, when Revere began engraving political cartoons. Revere’s engravings were invaluable to the movement. Bostonians might not read a political pamphlet, but they could glance at one of his cartoons and understand the political message immediately.
In 1768, on the eve of the American Revolution, Revere crafted the most celebrated work of American silver, the “Sons of Liberty Bowl,” now housed at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, to commemorate an act of civil disobedience. It honors the ninety-two members of the Massachusetts House of Representatives who refused to rescind the Massachusetts Circular Letter written by Samuel Adams and James Otis Jr. The letter was written in protest against the Townshend Acts of 1767, which taxed tea, paper, glass and other commodities imported from England, and had been distributed throughout the colonies, heightening tensions between America and the British Parliament. Engraved with an inscription to the “Glorious Ninety-Two” and references to the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights, here Revere’s work transcends mere silversmithing and becomes a three-dimensional document of colonial America’s resistance to the tyrannical rule of England.
An American Silver LegacyAfter serving his country during the American Revolution, Revere resumed his role at the forefront of American silver producing elegant pitchers, bowls, sauceboats, teapots and creamers. Thus, Revere’s silver is often divided into two periods separated by the war. His pre-Revolutionary works display the lingering influence of the Rococo with flowing, curvilinear forms, scrolling handles and chased foliate decoration. His post-Revolutionary works are mainly neoclassical in style, which had become the favored design aesthetic of the day. His shop’s output also increased after the war; its daybooks reveal that it produced 1,145 objects before the war and 4,210 after, largely due to new technical innovations such as a flatting mill that simplified the production of sheet silver.
Leehey, Patrick M. Paul Revere: Artisan, Businessman, and Patriot: The Man Behind the Myth. Paul Revere Memorial Association, 1988.
“Paul Revere, Jr.” Metmuseum.org, https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/rvre/hd_rvre.htm.
“Revere Silver.” Paul Revere House, 15 Apr. 2022, https://www.paulreverehouse.org/revere-silver/.
Sons of Liberty Bowl , Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, https://collections.mfa.org/objects/39072.