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The McKeon Vase

The McKeon Vase
Designed by Robert Ball Hughes
James Thomson, New York, NY, 1837
Image courtesy of Spencer Marks, Ltd. 
Click on image to enlarge 
    The McKeon Vase: Monumental American Silver Covered Presentation Vase was designed by Sculptor Robert Ball Hughes in New York in 1837. It was
presented to John McKeon (1808-1883) for his public service to the City of New
    On Saturday February 10, 1838, The New York Evening Post recorded the presentation to McKeon and noted: 
"The Vase is of the most exquisite design — by Ball Hughes, Esq. and manufactured by Thompson, of William Street.  It is of the Etruscan order — upon the top of the cover is seated an Indian girl with a buffalo skin thrown over her shoulders, with one hand resting upon a shield, and holding in the other a stalk of Indian corn.  The upper circle of the cover is adorned with thirteen stars, and underneath a wreath of laurel, both executed in the richest style of workmanship. The handles are formed by two eagles, with expanded wings, weighing together about seven pounds, very massive, beautifully wrought.  On one side in bass relief are the arms of the State of New York, and on the other, surrounding the
inscription a wreath composed of the lily - the shamrock -the fleur de lis and thistle…The Vase rises from a pedestal amid a foliage of hickory leaves, and is supported by the harp of Erin, highly finished, and richly ornamented. It is a fine specimen of art."
    This monumental piece is marked under the finial 'Jas. Thomson', 'NEW YORK' and '1837'.  It measures 24 inches high and weighs 311 troy ounces.  It is in excellent antique condition except for some restoration to the foot.
        It appears that the vase was sold by Christies in May 2010 for $25,000.  See the description of Sale 2373 / Lot 216 at A MONUMENTAL AMERICAN SILVER PRESENTATION CUP AND COVER. Christies refers to it as a presentation cup and cover, in urn form. It was sold again by Spencer Marks, Ltd. in early 2011.
Spencer Marks, Ltd. reports
"Working with silver was a theme throughout Ball Hughes's career.  His master, Edward Hodges Baily was a principal modeler to the royal goldsmiths and jewelers, Rundell, Bridge and Rundell, from 1815-33.  At the same time he kept an independent studio.  As Baily's apprentice, Ball Hughes worked both places and became an experienced silver modeler – at least one of his early sculptures
was cast in silver.  In 1840, Ball Hughes redesigned the obverse of the U.S. seated liberty coins with a bas relief strikingly similar to the finial of this vase. There is evidence that later in life, while living in Dorchester, he may have collaborated as a modeler with Roswell Gleason, the pewter and silverplate entrepreneur."
"This is the only known extant example of silver designed by Ball Hughes and one of only a very few pieces of American silver from this period whose designer is known."
The finial,
 a Native American bearing the gift of corn and holding an American shield
    Note that this vase was modeled in 1837, before Ball Hughes modified the design of the Seated Liberty in 1839. He would have been familiar with the Seated Liberty design by Christian Gobrecht that appeared on American coins starting in 1836.
See also the Silver and Goldsmiths page on this site for more about Ball Hughes work with silver and gold.
last update 5/26/2011
For noncommercial use, Copyright David E. Brown 2008-2011