by Anne Motto, Curator of Collections
April 4, 2023
From a library of books to monogrammed table linens, MCHS is phenomenally lucky to have an amazing array of Crane family artifacts in their original context within Acorn Hall. Until 2015, however, the collection was completely lacking any family silver, minus a single dinner knife. Then, MCHS received a call that sparked a remarkable journey to Nantucket to collect sets of Crane and Hone family silver tucked away for decades in a bank’s basement. Among them were Mr. and Mrs. Crane’s engraved 1849 set which now frequently takes pride of place at Acorn Hall’s dining room table.
In a spectacular case of serendipity, MCHS already held within its archives a receipt for the set’s original purchase on June 16, 1849 from NYC silversmiths Gale & Hayden. The 75 pieces were in the firm’s popular “Gothic” pattern patented two years earlier and engraved “Crane” on the handle. Even more serendipitously, an inventory of the silver from Nantucket revealed most of the set was still intact. Child-size forks and knives engraved for their two daughters, Mary and Julia, marked W. Gale & Son were added sometime in following decade. A later receipt from successor firm Brown & Spaulding, records one of the final additions when Mrs. Crane exchanged old knives and teaspoons for a dozen new of each on September 5, 1868. William Gale Sr. had died a year prior and his son, William Gale Jr., was by then working with Brown & Spaulding. Lo and behold, nearly the same number of spoons and knives from Nantucket bear the company’s mark.
The long odds of archival records dovetailing so perfectly with collections items is reflected in the rarity of such occurrences. Only one other purchase made by Augustus or Mary Crane during their long lifetimes is both recorded in the archives and preserved in the collection. However, with over 40 years between the donation of Acorn Hall and donation of the silver to MCHS, never say never, another surprising phone call could lead to lightning striking twice.