Nantucket Silver

Extremely rare, with only 32 records found in the Nantucket Historical Association Collections Database, Nantucket silver is a category held in high regard by collectors of early American silver.  Our auctions continue to present outstanding examples of Nantucket-made spoons, ladles, sugar shells by William Hadwen, James Easton II, Easton & Sanford, Edward G. and James S. Kelley, and have sold especially rare porringers and a cann by Benjamin Bunker.

Nantucket  Silver

No doubt Nantucket’s early settlers arrived with what silver – especially spoons – they could manage.  Though the island was first settled in 1659, few early Nantucket-made spoons survive.  Spoons and other silver having worn from household use were customarily melted down together with coins, and wrought anew for strength.  Until the first silver mine was discovered in the Americas in 1858, silver was scarce. But as Nantucket’s wealth grew, so did the purses full of coins and silver bar, with which a silversmith could fulfill increasing orders for spoons, porringers, pepper pots, candlesticks and more.  Merchant silversmiths frequently advertised their intention to purchase old silver and coin.  A prosperous ship builder or whaling captain consigned his coins to be melted and forged into household articles.

While European silver bore a system of hallmarks for origin, date, maker and later added a duty mark, the earliest American silver was unmarked. It eventually bore the maker’s mark/initials.


John Jackson
(born circa 1730 – died 1772 Nantucket, MA)
Said to be Nantucket’s first silversmith
Married Abigail Coffin Matthews of Nantucket
Active corner of Orange Street & Plumb Lane, Nantucket
Many old Nantucket families hold silver wrought by John Jackson in their collections. The Nantucket Historical Association holds at least 15 pieces.  The Museum of Fine Art in Boston holds one.  As far away as Christies, London, a pair of spoons by John Jackson were sold at auction in 1963.

Benjamin Bunker
(Born 1751, MA – died 1842, Nantucket, MA)
Active circa 1772 to 1820, Nantucket
Married to Rebecca Folger of Nantucket 1775
Apprenticed c. 1765 to John Jackson in Nantucket
The Nantucket Historical Association holds at least 49 pieces of Benjamin Bunker silver.  The Museum of Fine Art, Boston holds one porringer.
“Benjamin Bunker was the most prolific eighteenth-century silversmith in Nantucket, Massachusetts.  Bunker was listed as an armorer during the Revolution. Bunker produced about ten porringers, and at least thirty spoons bear his mark.
It should be noted that porringers remained popular with Americans long after they had passed out of fashion in England.” ~ Silver of the Americas, 1600-2000, Jeannine Falino and Gerald W.R. Ward, editors, published in 2008 by the MFA.

William Hadwen
(Born 1791, Newport, RI – died 1862, Nantucket, MA)
Active in Nantucket, 1820-1828
Descended of Nantucket ancestry on his grandmother Hadwen’s side, William Hadwen apprenticed in Rhode Island.  In 1813 he partnered with four men to found Gorham Manufacturing in Providence, RI; having incorporated as a partnership known as “The Firm.”  Their chief products were spoons made of coin silver.  William visited Nantucket in 1820 for his cousin Nathaniel Barney’s marriage to Eliza Starbuck and became acquainted with his future wife Eunice Starbuck, sister to Eliza.

Hadwen soon established in Nantucket a jewelry mercantile, which was continued for twenty-five years; succeeded by his apprentice, James Easton.  By 1829, Hadwen diversified his holdings, in partnership with cousin Nathaniel Barney as whale oil merchants and candle makers.  The two men’s father-in-law, Joseph Starbuck, was one of the most powerful whale oil merchants of the era.  Hadwen and Barney’s original factory was located on upper Main Street, but in 1849 they purchased the brick candle factory on Broad Street from Richard Mitchell and Sons for ,200. Today this building is the site of the Nantucket Historical Association’s ‘s Whaling Museum.

William and Eliza resided at 96 Main Street, in the Greek Revival mansion he built in 1845, directly across the street from his father-in-law’s three identical brick mansions.  The building and its twin Greek Revival mansion at 94 Main Street were the most ostentatious private dwellings the island had ever seen, and together with the Three Bricks, symbols of the wealth and prosperity of the island’s leading citizens.

In the publication, “Rich Men of Massachusetts, Boston, 1851,” Hadwen was listed as follows, “Began poor.  Oil and candle manufacturer.  Formerly in the jewelry business in Providence, Rhode Island.  Benevolent to individuals.  Worth 0,000.”


James Easton II
(Born 1807, Providence, RI – died 1903, Nantucket, MA)
Married to Sarah C. Wyer of Nantucket, 1832
Gold and silversmith, cooper, merchant and jeweler, Easton both imported and wrought silver spoons. Apprenticed to William Hadwen on Nantucket as a watchmaker and jeweler, Easton eventually purchased Hadwen’s jewelry business.  Easton later formed a business partnership with Frederick C. Sanford, doing business as Easton & Sanford.

James Easton was president of the Pacific Club, and was Nantucket’s (then) oldest citizen when he died “of old age” in 1903.

Easton & Sanford
The partnership of James Easton II and Frederick C. Sanford at 62 Main Street, Nantucket, Easton & Sanford, sold hats, umbrellas, gloves, etc., silver combs, cake stands, tea and coffee pots, and “a good assortment of silver suitable for engraving, gratis.”

Henry A. Kelley
(Born 1815, Providence, RI (?) – died 1869, Nantucket MA(?))
Brother to Edward
Apprenticed to his father, Allen Kelley of Providence, RI
The publication, “Rich Men of Massachusetts, Boston, 1851” states that he “Started poor.  Oil and candle manufacturer.  Industrious, enterprising, and quite benevolent. Worth ,000.”

Edward G. Kelley
(born 1818, Providence, RI (?) – died 1869)
Brother to Henry A. Kelley
Apprenticed to his father, Allen Kelley of Providence, RI
Married to Martha Munroe at Nantucket.

James S. Kelley
(Born circa 1820 Providence, RI (?) – died 1900, Portland, ME)
Active 1840-1856 and New Bedford, MA c. 1856-
Married Susan Chase, of Nantucket.
It is traditionally reported that Kelley arrived on Nantucket at the age of twelve and was apprenticed to his two half brothers, Edward G. and Henry A. Kelley in the jewelry business, where he was was made a partner in 1838.  The business advertised silverware and other articles; in particular there were various advertisements of silverware wrought by Henry A. Kelley.  In 1856, due to the decline of the whaling industry, James Kelley left Nantucket for New Bedford, and eventually Portland, Maine


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