Over a decade ago the idea of a conference on New England silver, to be cosponsored by the Colonial Society of Massachusetts and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, was a mere gleam in the eye of the Society’s treasurer, Frederick D. Ballou, an avid collector of silver in a variety of senses. Many qualities combine to make Ballou the ideal treasurer for a Boston non-profit institution: a paragon of Yankee thrift, as his battered briefcase (held together by odd bits of string and bailing wire) attests, Ballou is genial and open-handed when it comes to spending money for the Society’s stated purposes. Amiable and good-humored, he might be, but Ballou is also persistent, and not many a meeting of the Colonial Society’s Council would pass without Ballou sideling up next to me and asking about the possibilities for a conference on colonial New England silver.
The laws of physics as applied to human relations dictate that those who persevere long enough eventually succeed in transmitting their preoccupations to someone else. Thus, I began to ask the same question of Jonathan Fairbanks, at that time head of American Decorative Arts and Sculpture at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. These requests became so frequent that I began to imagine that Fairbanks was actually sprinting away from me each time he saw me across a crowded gathering. Whenever I would succeed in catching hold of Jonathan’s coattails, he would kindly promise to consult the Museum’s Higher Authorities, and each time the message would return that the auguries were not yet right for such an event. Sometime around 1994, Fairbanks, worn down by all my pleading, surrendered and observed that since the Museum would be exhibiting the recently acquired Firestone Collection of pre-Revolutionary French silver in the spring of 1996, perhaps that would be a good time for a conference!
Now it only remained to find suitable editors for the volume of conference proceedings that would eventually transpire. Fairbanks himself had edited a similar volume for the Colonial Society on Boston furniture, and although it remains the Society’s all-time best seller, he well knew the headaches involved. We could not have been more fortunate in the two members of the Department of American Decorative Arts who then stepped forward to assume the task: Jeannine Falino and Gerald W. R. Ward. Falino combined great tact and organizational ability with tenacity and the necessary attention to detail, and Ward was well known for the style and wit of his essays on similar subjects and for editing many books, catalogues, and conference reports.
William M. Fowler, Jr., and Linda Smith Rhoads, at that time the Colonial Society’s President and Chair of the Publications Committee respectively, stepped in to help with the delicate negotiations that are inevitable when two non-profit organizations cooperate and each is equally convinced that it ought not to spend more than a fair share of its precious resources for their joint endeavors. Falino, ably assisted by Jane Port and the dedicated American Decorative Arts staff, saw to it that the conference progressed smoothly and elegantly. April 19 and 20, 1996, were also red letter days in the history of the Colonial Society, because although we had sponsored many scholarly conferences before, this one, thanks to the generous support of the Lowell Institute, was the first ever to be open to the public at large.
Those attending the conference heard fourteen papers over the course of two days (including several essays not represented in this volume). The hardest work of all in any volume of conference proceedings is extracting completed manuscripts from careful authors who are understandably anxious to make a variety of emendations before they commit themselves to print. The process takes long enough for a single author, but when so many people are involved it can (and did!) take years. Here Falino’s diplomacy and patient application served us well. As it arrived, each essay was read first by Linda Smith Rhoads and benefited from her long experience as co-editor of the New England Quarterly. Rhoads’s observations were eventually incorporated by Falino and Ward with their own more specialized substantive comments, and authors had another chance to reconsider before the essays were turned over to Ondine LeBlanc of the Massachusetts Historical Society, the skilled copy editor of the volume. Further negotiations with authors took place by email before disks were eventually turned over to Avanda Peters and Roderick Stinehour of The Stinehour Press, the volume’s talented designers and printers responsible for the handsome result you see today. Jane Port once again stepped to the fore to take on the mammoth task of assembling all the photographs needed to illustrate the various essays.
Thus each Colonial Society volume is the work of many hands and much uncompensated labor all dedicated to the Society’s stated purposes of “propagating knowledge” and “encouraging individual research” into the lives, deeds, and material culture of New England’s early history. We can only be grateful to those who gave their time so generously.
John W. Tyler
Editor of Publications