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Monday, December 11, 2017

A 1720s Armorial Silver Cann from Charleston, South Carolina

Discoveries from the Field
A 1720s Armorial Silver Cann from Charleston South Carolina by Taylor Thislethwaite
by Taylor Thistlethwaite

Museum of Early Southern Decorative Art’s founder, Frank Horton, purchased this silver cann marked by Charleston, South Carolina, silversmith Lucas Stoutenburgh (1691–1743) in the 1960s. It is boldly engraved with a coat of arms featuring a rampant lion placed between eight cross-crosslets and crested with a combed cockatrice rising from a ducal coronet. Whose arms were these? Horton wrote to the College of Arms in London, England, in an attempt to identify the family the crest represented. They responded that the coat of arms was identifiable, but that the cost for the research would be greater than the £20 he enclosed.1

Enter Google. A search revealed a nearly identical coat of arms granted to Sir Thomas Hutchinson, Lord of Radcliff (1586–1643), by King Charles I of England. His great grandson, Dr. John Hutchinson (d.1729) was an early resident of Charleston, South Carolina. A search of Google Books found Ancestral Records and Portraits by the Colonial Dames of America published in 1910, which contained a description of a seal that belonged to Dr. Hutchinson with a coat of arms that exactly matched those on the silver cann.2 Dr. Hutchinson’s 1729 probate inventory establishes him as a man of considerable wealth. He owned sixteen slaves valued at £2500, and his total personal estate was valued at £4055.10. His inventory included seven pages of medicines and medical tools from his shop on the first floor of his house, and 352 ounces of silver valued at £704.3

Cann, Lucus Stoutenburgh (1691–1743), engraving attributed to Joseph Massey (d. 1736), Charleston, South Carolina, ca. 1719–1729. Silver. H. 4-3/8 in. Courtesy, MESDA Purchase Fund (2033.2). Detail of engraving on silver cann.
Cann, Lucus Stoutenburgh (1691–1743), engraving attributed to Joseph Massey (d. 1736), Charleston, South Carolina, ca. 1719–1729. Silver. H. 4-3/8 in. Courtesy, MESDA Purchase Fund (2033.2).

Detail of engraving on silver cann.

Detail of marks on Stoutenburgh silver cann.
Detail of marks on Stoutenburgh silver cann.

Heraldry was popular in eighteenth-century Charleston as a way of highlighting an individual’s upper-class family heritage. Who engraved Hutchinson’s coat of arms on the cann? Other pieces of Stoutenburgh silver failed to exhibit complex engraving, but archival records show that Stoutenburgh shared slaves with early Charleston engraver, gunsmith, and clockmaker Joseph Massey, who died in 1736.4 His probate inventory contained a copy of The Academy of Armory by Randall Holme (1627–1700), published in England in 1688, which contained all of the heraldic instruction Massey would have needed to engrave Hutchinson’s arms.5 Joseph Massey’s obituary in the South Carolina Gazette on Mary 15, 1736, noted that he “was the first that engraved and printed the Paper Currency of this Province.” Comparing elements of Massey’s printed money and the Hutchinson cann’s coat of arms confirms that the same hand engraved both.6

When Frank Horton bought this silver cann for MESDA in the 1960s little did he know that a tool called Google used during the MESDA Summer Institute would help to unlock the secret of its maker, engraver, and owner. The earliest example of Southern-made armorial silver in existence, the cann underscores the importance of heraldry as a mark of family status in the early South. And I think Dr. John Hutchinson would drink to that!


This cann is included in the exhibition Our Spirited Ancestors: The Decorative Art of Drink, on view from October 25, 2011 through September 2012 in the G. Wilson Douglas Jr. Gallery at the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts in Old Salem, N.C. An online version of this exhibit will be available at www.MESDA.org/drink.

In conjunction with the show, MESDA will host a Saturday Seminar on November 12th, 2011. Explore the customs, furniture, and ceramics associated with the art of liquid entertaining in the early South with speakers Dennis Pogue, Vice President of Preservation at George Washington’s Mount Vernon who oversaw the reconstruction of George Washington’s Whisky Distillery; Robert Hunter, the editor of Ceramics in America; and Daniel Ackermann, the exhibition’s curator. For more information call 336.721.7360 or visit www.MESDA.org/events.


Taylor Thistlethwaite is a MESDA Summer Institute fellow and an Americana specialist at Case Antiques Auctions and Appraisals, Knoxville, Tennessee.


1. Sir Anthony Wagner to Frank Horton, “In reference to an unknown coat of arms,” date unknown, MESDA Accession Files 2033-2.

2. Ancestral Records and Portraits: A Compilation From the Archives of Chapter I., The Colonial Dames of America Vol. 1 (New York, New York: The Grafton Press, 1910) 394–396.

3. Charleston County Wills and Miscelaneous Records vol. 62a and 62b (2 February 1730) 612–623.

4. “Joseph Massey” Artisan File. Found in the Craftsman Database, MESDA Research Center, Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

5. Charleston County Wills, vol. 68 (30 August 1736) 9-13; Holme, Randle The Academy of Armory, or, A Storehouse of Armory and Blazon (Chester, England: 1688).

6. For early examples of engraved South Carolina currency see: Newman, Eric P. The Early Paper Money of America (Racine, Wisconsin: Whitman Publishing Company, 1967) 300, 302.

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