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Hot Water Urn

Made by Richard Humphreys, American (born West Indies), 1750 - 1832. Engraved by James Smither, English (active Philadelphia), 1741 - 1797. Presented to Charles Thomson, American (born Ireland), 1729 - 1824, Secretary of the First Continental Congress, 1774.

Made in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States, North and Central America




21 1/2 × 10 1/2 × 8 inches (54.6 × 26.7 × 20.3 cm)

Curatorial Department:
American Art

* Gallery 201, American Art, second floor

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Purchased with funds contributed by The Dietrich American Foundation, 1977

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Used to dispense hot water when serving tea, this urn is the earliest documented object made in colonial America in the Neoclassical style. Its form, arcade and bead moldings, and stylized rosettes and laurel leaves all derive from English designs inspired by ancient Roman sources. By the mid-1780s this style, which came to be known as “Federal” after the American Revolution, had taken hold in Philadelphia. In contrast, the engraved cartouche by James Smither features the curvilinear, organic ornament of the earlier Rococo style. The First Continental Congress commissioned the urn in 1774 for presentation to its secretary, Charles Thomson, perhaps intending its classical qualities to reference the ancient Roman republic as a model for the fledgling American government.

* Works in the collection are moved off view for many different reasons. Although gallery locations on the website are updated regularly, there is no guarantee that this object will be on display on the day of your visit.