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Setting the Family Table

What do the holidays mean to you and your family? For museum co-founders, Stephen and Sarah Pell, this time of year would mean hosting holiday events. Elaborate holiday fetes provided families an opportunity to display their best silver and china, be it flatware, serving dishes, and everything in between—such pieces reflected their history, success, and wealth.

Collections staff begin the process of unpacking and sorting the silver collection
Collections staff begin the process of unpacking and sorting the silver collection

family china proudly displayed in the Pavilion in the late 20th century.

Here at Fort Ticonderoga we too are dusting off the family silver in advance of the holidays, not for a lavish feast, but to inventory the collection. While we have a detailed insurance record of the silver found in the Pell’s NYC apartment in 1912, we lack a full inventory of the collection present at the Pavilion. Since we do not have the Pavilion’s silver on a grand display, we have been delving into our storage cupboards to pull out the family silver.

The Pell’s were meticulous in cataloging family heirlooms with the exception of their family silver. The inventory lists made at the time often refer to the need for a silver inventory. This means that we at Fort Ticonderoga have to become sleuths to identify individual pieces and their importance to the family. However, one advantage of this task is that silver has a number of characteristics that make establishing provenance easier than furniture or china. The most important pieces were engraved as a way to commemorate important occasions and to deter theft. Additionally, silversmiths and manufacturers employ touch marks and makers’ marks to declare the purity of the silver and the maker. You can see from our picture that we have a lot of work ahead of us.

As work on the Pavilion collection continues, stay tuned here and on Fort Ticonderoga’s Facebook page for updates on the restoration of the Pavilion, new discoveries, and more from Fort Ticonderoga every week.