The Dummer Bowl

The Dummer bowl, sometimes used on special occasions, is one of a few important pieces of American silver. It is normally on display in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. It was made by Jeremiah Dummer (1645 – 1718) merchant and silversmith of Boston. It was the gift of the reverend William Brattle, minister of this Church from 1696 to 1717, and tutor, fellow, and treasurer of Harvard.

Candelabra and Dummer Bowl
First Parish Silver: Candelabra and Dummer Bowl

The bowl was made and presented to Brattle in 1695 by his Harvard students, as the original inscription “Ex dono Pupillorum” indicates. The Brattle coat of arms is engraved on the rim. The bowl bears Dummer’s mark, a heart-shaped device within which are his initials, with a small pellet between the initial, and a fleur-de-lis. It was made for domestic use. Rosewater dishes or basins were used at feasts before the advent of forks and knives; between courses a basin would be passed, with a napkin, to guests.

The use of a bowl instead of a baptismal font in early New England churches was due to a decree of Parliament during the Commonwealth that all fonts would be removed from the Church, and that a basin would be used instead. The hope was that the superstitions connected with baptism would thereby be removed. Of the two of these rosewater bowls that survived as baptismal basins in New England Churches, the Dummer Bowl is the earlier.

Brattle died in 1717 and in his will appeared this clause: “I hereby present to the Church of Christ in Cambridge for a baptismal basin , my great silver basin, an inscription which I leave the prudence of the Revd. President (John Leverett) and the Rd. Mr. Simon Bradstreet.” The inscription that Leverett and Bradstreet selected is “A Baptismal Basin consecrated, bequeathed, and presented to the church of Christ in Cambridge, his dearly beloved flock, by the Revd Mr Wm Brattle Pastr of the Sd Church; who was translated from his charge to his Crown, Febr 15: 1716/1717.”

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