About Me

Growing up in a small New England town with a mother who was an antiquarian it was inevitable that I would be exposed to old things. After graduating from UMass/Amherst I lived in Connecticut, taught school, married, and raised three children in suburbia. A move to Newburyport MA renewed my interest in all things old. This background has now evolved into research, writing, consulting and all the things I love to do.

Prudence Fish

Sunday, July 16, 2017

THE RETURN OF THE SOUP TUREEN



 WHERE, OH WHERE HAS IT BEEN?

This is an amazing and convoluted story of an interesting 19th century family and the adventures of their heirloom soup tureen.
The Victorian Soup Tureen

On February 1, 1869 Herbert Small of Boston married Sarah Elizabeth Morton of Newton called Lizzie.  They were married in Boston.  He was the son of Samuel Small, a manufacturer of black keys for pianos, and Ann (Morley) Small.  Sarah was the daughter of William Morton and Elizabeth (Kurtz) Morton an affluent couple from Newton, MA.
Herbert Morley (1844-1935) and Elizabeth Morton Morley (1843-1929)
Within a few years with the help of a loan from William Morton this young couple moved to the village of Baldwinville in central Massachusetts, in the town of Templeton, where Herbert Small built a paper mill on the Otter River. He also built a large Italianate house on a hill overlooking the mill that ultimately had 14 rooms for their growing family of five boys.


The Morley house in Templeton, MA in the village of Baldwinville.  That interesting roof on the left is the well house.


Five Morley brothers.  My mother's husband,
 Sumner, is at the bottom.  (1886-1920)
This somewhat well-to-do family was extremely intellectual.  Mr. Small graduated from Amherst College in the 1860s.  Their house was home to a large library. They were active in the community and the children were well educated.  All attended Goddard Seminary in Barre, Vermont and most went on to Tufts becoming professors and teachers.  They were home schooled in their earlier years by teachers who lived with the family.  As the children grew older they traveled to Europe frequently with their father.

Strangely enough, in the 1890s Mr. Small decided to do away with their last name: Small.  He decided that he would take his mother’s maiden name: Morley.  So the entire family kept Small as their middle name but took Morley as their surname. Some say they changed their name because all being well over six feet tall didn’t appreciate being called Small.  Others said that the name Morley had more cache and that is probably more like it.

This move confused many who thought Mr. Morley had taken his wife’s maiden name: Morton, and concluded that he was so hen-pecked that he was forced to take her name which was really not the case although the rumor persisted. But their last name became Morley and not Morton.

My mother who had moved to this village to teach the second grade.  She soon fell in love with the youngest son, already a widower, whose young wife had died in a terrible train wreck in Bridgeport, Ct. in 1910. By this time (1914) the Mortons in Newton had died and  with the children grown Herbert Small Morley and his wife went to Newton to live in the Morton’s commodious house leaving the big house in  Templeton (Baldwinville) for my mother and her new husband to live in.
My mother with her second grade class, about 1913

The Morton house at 119 Cedar Street in Newton, MA.  Demolished in the 1930s for a subdivision.
Sadly, only five years into the marriage my mother’s husband died suddenly but she was able to stay on in the house for many years before remarrying. She ultimately came into possession of numerous items some of which were inscribed with an “S”, possibly wedding presents for the Smalls in 1869.
In my childhood I was very much aware of the big Morley house, now unoccupied but a perfectly intact example of an 1870s Italianate house, a time capsule with all the furniture, appointments and decorations still in place. My mother, being the only Morley relative left in the area became caretaker of the house for her former in-laws.  Frequently she would take the big brass key to the double front doors off its hook and would go to check on the house with me in tow.  In that way, although very young, I became acquainted with this great place as we moved through the house from room to room making sure everything was in order.

In our dining room was an item of interest perhaps dating to the marriage of Herbert and Sarah Elizabeth.  It was a large silver plated soup tureen.  The finial on the lid was a cow and the handles on the sides of the tureen were cows’ heads.  It was a product of the Reed and Barton silver factory and quite a curiosity to all who saw it, made at a time when there were silver items for every possible use. There were many figural pieces with animals or birds as part of the design. But a cow of all things takes the cake.
The handle on the lid of the tureen was this cow!
It had another distinguishing feature.  At some time in the 19th century a Morley maid had placed the tureen on the back of the big black kitchen stove to keep the soup warm.  But at that time silver plating was done on brittania or similar soft  pewter-like metal.  It was inevitable that the heat from the stove would melt the pedestal base of the tureen leaving it warped and wobbly with a rather big piece missing and that is exactly what happened. The tureen remained unsteady on its base for all time.
Badly damaged pedestal under the soup tureen
Ultimately the tureen came down to me and went with me to Connecticut, then back to Massachusetts to our next house in Newburyport.  In Newburyport it was not on display but stashed in a closet.  Although buried deep in the back of the closet it was not overlooked by burglars who took it along with a great deal of much better solid silver.  The loss was great.  It probably was a disappointment to the thieves to find out that the big tureen was not sterling and could not be melted down for money.

Fast forward to somewhere around 2010.  As usual I attended a Sunday flea market with a friend.  My friend purchased a large doll house and we had to pick it up in my wagon.  This necessitated driving through the crowded flea market very slowly and cautiously.  The aisles were filled with pedestrians and shoppers.

Suddenly, much to the surprise of my passenger friend, I slammed on my brakes, shoved my car into park and jumped out.  On one of the tables was a soup tureen!  And it had a cow finial!  I knew that if it had a melted pedestal it was mine...and it did!

The unsuspecting dealer said, “Have you ever seen anything like that before?”  “Yes”, I replied.  “It’s mine.”  Perhaps I wasn't very tactful but he was not at all gracious about this. I ended up paying him $35.00 for it.  He was not happy.  I never thought that he was the thief and he wasn’t.  He had obtained it from an antique “picker” named Brian.

After some searching I located Brian, the picker, from Hampton, NH who told me that he made it a habit to stop by a scrap metal shop in Amesbury, MA where they would sometimes set aside things that came in that were of interest and that is where he found the tureen sitting on a shelf.  This scrap yard was less than five miles from where it had been stolen more than thirty years previously. 

It was in bad shape, dented and tarnished, no doubt left in a cellar or barn to be kicked around when the thieves found out that they couldn’t turn it into cash.
The melted pedestal on the tureen.


Off went the tureen to a repair and replating shop.  At great expense it was brought back to life.  But what about the damaged pedestal?  To repair that ancient damage would cost several hundred dollars more.  All agreed that the wobbly base was part of its history; part of the story, and that I should leave it alone and that is what I decided to do.  They did attach a small round leg to stabilize it a bit but that is all.  It won’t tip over but it still wobbles.
The restored soup tureen. Shining but still wobbling!

A year later at the flea market someone told me that a man named Brian was looking for me.  I found him along with his wife.  It was the picker who had rescued the tureen from the scrap yard the year before.

These wonderful people presented me with a coffee table book; the history of  Reed and Barton silver.
The history of Reed and Barton silver
Best of all in the book was a picture of the tureen.  They were so happy to have played a role in finding the tureen.  It was a great contrast to the dealer who was such a sore loser than he hasn't spoken to me since although I see him nearly every week at the flea market.

From the pages of "Sterling Classics:
The Reed and Barton Story", Taunton, MA 1998.  The decorative band
around the middle is more ornate than mine but
out of the same mold!



As I polished the Morley soup tureen, circa 1870s, I thought about its history and how it found its way back to me.  It had been gone so long that even my now middle aged children didn’t recognize it or remember when we had it on display in our Connecticut house. They were too young and it had been too long ago.

Not so for me.  I remember it in my childhood in our dining room and later in my own dining room in Connecticut before it came with me back to Massachusetts and the house in Newburyport from which it was stolen. 

I will never know where it was for the intervening years but I know it was not very far away.  Now it is in my dining room in Gloucester…safe and sound but not worth nearly as much monetarily as I paid to have it fixed!!  I had to make it right and I’m glad I did.  There are some things on which you just can’t put a price tag.

After polishing the tureen and other items I decided to continue this Sunday afternoon settling down
comfortably with my lap top to record the story of my soup tureen. 

Sarah Elizabeth Morton Morley
I hope you find the story of the tureen's recovery as remarkable as I think it was.  When you lose something I don't believe you ever stop looking.  This time I was lucky but excited to have it back.

Now if I could only find the impressive leather cased fish set with fork and fish slice so beautifully engraved by Farrington and Hunnewell of Boston or the matching leather cased soup ladle,  also from the shop of Farrington and Hunnewell; or the eighteen Boston silver serving spoons, mostly from Newell Harding that came to me from my father's family or the twelve 1830 coin teaspoons in their original box and tissue paper and monogrammed with an H for Howard from an old house in East Templeton now torn down and replaced by a convenience store.  The list could go on and on. Unfortunately, I'm sure their fate was to be melted down.

It is doubtful that I will find anything else but I will never stop looking.    You never know.

Thanks for reading,


NOTES

MORTON STREET 

Morton Street, from Mill to Homer Street, 
is marked on the 1 848 map, though the 
location is that of the present Cedar 
Street. The street was probably William 
Morton's private driveway. Both Morton 
and Cedar Streets were accepted by the 
City in 1908.
 Mr. Morton's estate described in King's 
Handbook of Newton as a "gothic villa" 
was just north of Cedar Street. He sold 
ten acres of the estate to local 
speculators in 1 847 with the following 
restrictions: "that there shall not be built 


Pru
The Victorian parlor in the Newton house.





3 comments:

  1. Hello Prudence, How extraordinary to get your tureen back after losing it all that time. Too bad about all the other lost silver--it hurts even when when it is family pieces that are stolen or destroyed.

    It was fascinating to read about your family history, so well documented with photographs of people and houses. The Newton house was especially attractive; you were lucky to visit it intact--it must have been very atmospheric.
    --Jim

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  2. Hi Jim,

    It was the house in Templeton/Baldwinville that I saw. I never saw the house in Newton. The house I did see could be a museum today. Not much had ever been changed. It came to a sad end. The family was headed toward a crisis as to what to do with it. One unseasonably warm and windy day in April around 1942 there was a forest fire some distance away but it moved quickly in the direction of the house. The cedars that surrounded the house burst into flame and at the end of the day nothing was left. The only things that survived are things that had been given to my mother and were safe and sound in the house where she lived during her second marriage to my father, the house I grew up in which was not far away. Considering the size of the family there are almost no descendants left. Very few people are alive that ever saw the inside of the house. Only the neighborhood kids that I let in when my mother was preoccupied. I took the key and opened the door. I know at least one other that remembers that caper besides me!
    Pru

    ReplyDelete
  3. That is an absolutely amazing story! I love all the history that you share in your blog.

    ReplyDelete