MADE BY: Reed and Barton Silversmiths
3 ¾ inches – Tall: to top of ball
6 11/16 inches - Wide
5 ¼ inches – Deep
Ball on top of lid:
1 3/16 inches long
3/16 inches across
“The little football on the lid perfectly resembles the oversized balls of the 1880’s, which today’s collectors refer to as a “melon ball”. The ball, which acts as a handle to pull the lid up, measures 1 3/16 inches long by 3/16 inches across, and has seams and grip laces carefully engraved onto it, to emulate a real four panel football. In my eighteen plus years in the hobby, I’ve never seen football formally represented in an art piece like this. It’s a pretty sure bet this is the finest football box that was ever made."
One of the most exciting things about this incredible circa 1887 box is that it is American. Though its design has somewhat of an English feel, which we’ll look into later in this examination, it is nevertheless, thoroughly American, made in America for the American market. The Reed and Barton Company of Taunton
Massachusetts, who produced this box, was founded in 1824, and is still in business today. I contacted them to see if they could provide any information on it, and was told they produced and sold these between 1887 and 1910. However, this is only the second one I’ve seen in eighteen years. I’ve also seen a
shaving cup, and napkin ring P1/P2/P3, which they didn’t mention. They also confirmed that this box was made in two sizes, larger and smaller. The one we examine here is the smaller version being 3 ¾ inches tall (to the top of the ball), by 6 11/16 inches wide, by 5 ¼ inch deep. The other version, which I have an in my collection, measures 3 ¾ inches tall (to the top of the ball), by 8 ¾ inches wide, by 5 ¼ inches
photo to enlarge
from the Reed and Barton files
Reed and Barton was kind enough to email
me what appears to be a very old, period photograph of the two versions side by side, which they located in their records.
THE FOOTBALL SCENE
The box is surrounded on all four sides with the identical relief of a football game in progress. The depiction is full of the action and force of an actual game. The detail is remarkable; it’s possible the artist may have worked at least partially from a photograph. We see a number of trees in the near and distant background, with no leaves on them, which is accurate for the fall football season. One building can be seen in the distance, connected to a tall tower type structure. This may represent a clock tower of a college campus. Harvard University was only about thirty miles from Taunton, and had one of the most famous football teams of the era. It’s very likely the artist of this box saw football played there, and modeled their design from it.
photo to enlarge
Close up, front panel
In the distance there are roughly sixteen heads of spectators, as well as what appears to be a uniformed player on the right, perhaps a referee, not playing, but watching from a distance; his hands on his hips and legs spread. Behind the spectators, appears to be a stone wall. To the right of the watching player, close in at corners edge, is another possible referee/uniformed player, who also appears not to be playing, but is hunched forward in the grip of excitement, as he watches the play. The ball carrier, who’s centrifugal force has his body out in front of his legs, is being stopped by a tackler in front of him, who has grabbed him at his waist. On the other side of the ball carrier, an offensive player is reaching with both arms, over and under, to try to snatch the ball from the ball carrier. Underneath them is a player that has been knocked to the ground, who the ball snatcher has stepped over, with a great stride.
An important precept of art is that a picture or scene revolve around a center axis. The center axis of this scene would be the reversed V-shaped stride of the ball snatcher, and his interaction with the ball carrier. This center axis, or center of the action, exemplifies the realism and energy the artist imparted, and his or hers prowess as a sculptor. Behind the ball snatcher are three other players in the background, possibly offensive, closing in on the ball carrier. To their left, in the front of the scene, with his backside to us, appears to be a defensive player blocking a would be tackler. To the left of them, comes another player running at full speed, back foot in the air, apparently to help block. Behind him, a fallen player on the ground is apparently starting to get up. The busyness continues above that fallen player, with two conjoined players, their arms around each other. Obviously the player on the right is blocking the would be tackler on the left. To the left of them, at the very left corner edge of the scene is another player running towards the scrimedge.
photo to enlarge
Close up, miniature football lid handle
MINIATURE FOOTBALL ON LID
The little football on the lid perfectly resembles the oversized balls of the 1880’s, which today’s collectors refer to as a “melon ball”. The ball, which acts a handle to pull the lid up, measures 1 3/16 inches long by 3/16 inches across, and has seams and grip laces carefully engraved onto it, to emulate a real four panel football. In my eighteen plus years in the hobby, I’ve never seen football formally represented in an art piece like this. It’s a pretty sure bet this is the finest football box that was ever made.
AMERICAN FOOTBALL DEFINED
When I first saw this box, my initial impression was that it looked a little English, until I closely examined the uniforms, plus saw that Reed and Barton had made it. Nineteenth century English football players wore shorts, whereas the players on our box are wearing the traditional over the knee style football pants, commonly worn by American football players then. Further, all the players are wearing the classic tight fitting canvas football smock. These were also commonly worn by American football players in the 1880’s, and were invented by L.P. Smock of Princeton in 1877.
1880’s ERA DEFINED
Since we know Reed and Barton starting selling these in 1887, we know the design predates their 1887 offering. To further establish the time this box was designed, we see the players are not wearing headgear. The head harness, which evolved into the helmet, came into use about the early 1890’s, so we again establish the scene to be pre 90’s. Since the players are wearing the football smocks, which were invented by L.P. Smock of Princeton in 1877, we can therefore narrow the time frame this box was designed down to a ten-year window, between 1877
and 1887 when Reed and Barton began selling them.
REED AND BARTON, AN INSTITUTION
During The 19th and early 20th century, Reed and Barton was one of the largest, and most successful silver companies in the United States. The story of how the company evolved from an 1824 workshop, into a highly structured, and industrialized factory, over a one hundred year period, is an interesting one. Like any such company, it was made up of three basic entities, 1. Accounting, 2. Sales and Marketing, and 3. Production. Production had the most direct bearing on the final product. Within the production department, were the company’s two most defining and creative divisions. One was the production technicians who crafted the wares. This highly skilled, and specialized team of artesians included burnishers, platers, diesinkers, spinners, and more. Within the community of these craftsman was an entire world and culture unto itself, with its own rules, politics, and pecking order. Production is almost always the unsung hero of a company. When a smiling, impeccably dressed sales clerk, with a pencil moustache, and bow tie pulled a Reed and Barton piece out of the display case, for a customer to examine, rarely was any thought given to the production process and skill that went into producing it.
The other most defining and creative division of the production department was the designers who designed the wares. Apparently by 1874 the company became fully aware of the importance of design. On September 4th of that year, a Mr. W. C. Beattie was brought from England, and became Reed and Barton’s first full-time designer. Beattie was the Chief Designer at the time our football box was produced. By 1889 there were twenty-four men working in Reed and Barton’s design department. Between 1874 and 1890, the design department became so highly regarded, that its designers were afforded very special treatment in that every convenience they needed was provided. Even to the extent that each principle designer was provided their own locked room, where they could work uninterrupted from anything that would impede their creativity. It was in one of these rooms that our box would have been designed.
photo to enlarge
Lid up, inside view
THE ENGLISH DESIGN INFLUENCE
It appears around half the Reed and Barton designers were foreign born and trained, as was common in the silver industry. The influence of the European training these designers brought with them, no doubt lent its self to designing the many varied styles of decorative silver, which the American public demanded in the late 19th century. The English, who have long been very proud of their sporting history, employed the same style of Bas-Relief work in their early sports plaques that was used on our football box. It’s very possible Beattie or another English born designer may have drawn their inspiration from such works, when designing our box.
REED AND BARTON’S QUALITY
Throughout the companies most historical and influential years, from 1824 to 1924, the quality of their wares was always the top priority. It’s reported that the ageing company patriarch Henry Reed, once grabbed an imperfect piece of ware from the hands of a workman, crumpled it on the floor with his heel, exclaiming…”We don’t make seconds in this factory”. To this day, an antiques dealer is quick to inform a prospective customer “that was made by Reed and Barton”.
IMPORTANT AMERICAN ART
This is certainly an important American work of art. Not only is it the only box I know of with a 19th century football art relief; it’s the only example of a 19th century football art relief I know of period. football art doesn’t get much better than this. The exact designer of this incredible piece remains unknown, but what is known for sure, is that whoever designed it, made one of the finest, American football decorative art pieces our country ever produced.