I’m pleased to introduce today’s guest blogger, Susan Reiss. Susan writes mysteries set in St. Michaels, Maryland, an Eastern Shore harbor town near where my husband and I stay when we summer in Maryland. Her stories also feature antique silver pieces… but I’ll let her tell you about that. Take it away, Susan!
“The vault is down the basement steps on the right.”
First line of a mystery novel? No, it was the beginning of my adventure at the Talbot County Historical Society, where I discovered that the products of our imagination are sometimes more real than we imagined.
I love sterling silver pieces so much that they are the theme of my cozy mystery series set in St. Michaels in Talbot County, Maryland.
While doing research, I discovered that a London silversmith came to the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay in 1655 and bought an island that still carries his name. Instead of making silver pieces, Thomas Bruff became a real estate mogul, buying and selling land until he became a gentleman. In the local historical records, there was a whiff of a rumor that he made some silver pieces while here. His male heirs—nine of them—worked as silversmiths but only some of their pieces survive today.
For my new book, I “created” a silver spoon made by the original Bruff and placed it at the center of the mystery.
Imagine my surprise when the invitation arrived from the Talbot County Historical Society to visit their vault and see silver spoons made by the Bruff family, including one from the hand of Thomas Bruff, the patriarch of the family.
The society’s museum is under renovation so it was down the steps to the vault on the right… the vault that was the size of several huge living rooms! On a desk lay five small packages of white tissue and brown felt. After putting on clean cotton gloves supplied by the collections manager, the adventure of unwrapping the treasures began.
There was a large spoon made by a very busy Bruff descendant who ran an inn, operated a ferry and made silver pieces. It dates back to the early 18th Century and was an excellent example of a British desert spoon, about the size of our oval soup spoon. Maybe they didn’t want to miss a morsel!
The manager found another package in a stray box and we unwrapped a gorgeous silver punch ladle, also a product of the Bruff tradition.
Another spoon was made by the rogue of the family. His trail of silver pieces goes from one Eastern Shore town to another, then across the Bay to Baltimore, then New York and finally to Nova Scotia, always one step ahead of the law.
The last package on the desk, smaller than the others, held the treasure I’d come to see–the spoon made of coin silver and attributed to the original Thomas Bruff. I thought the manager was going to faint when I mentioned the value was probably four to five figures because there are so few in existence.
Why so valuable? Because coin silver was a similar grade to that used in British money and the pieces were often melted down for their monetary value at the expense of the craftsmanship. The same thing is happening today with the price of silver so high.
The society’s inventory labeled the piece a teaspoon, but the conservator mused that it must be a tiny serving spoon, for jelly perhaps. Gently, I disagreed.
The English always preferred to drink their tea from a cup. The spoon was meant to rest on the saucer after stirring. If you’ve ever tried to place a teaspoon by a cup, you know it’s hard to get it to stay put. That’s because our American teaspoons are large and clunky in comparison to the original English design that nestles nicely in the space on the saucer.
As I held the spoon, I thought back to the time I sat at my desk and “made up” the story about a spoon made by Thomas Bruff. Not a product of my imagination, it was real. This was a spoon made by a man who braved the Atlantic Ocean and established his family just a couple miles from where I wrote my story. The spoon had escaped the great-melt-down-for-cash and survived more than 340 years of use and storage to come to rest in a dusty basement vault … and in a mystery book.
Have you every made something up, only to discover it was real? Has your family silver survived, or did it get melted down somewhere along the way by ancestors desperate for cash?
Posted by Susan Reiss. Trained as a concert pianist, Susan spent many years as a television writer/producer. She now lives in St. Michaels with her black Lab, Cody who is remarkably like Simon, the puppy in her series. The Bruff silver is at the center of her latest book, Painted Silver. The other books in the series, Tarnished Silver and Sacred Silver are also available on Amazon. Check out her website for more more about silver and Susan.
Painted Silver, by Susan Reiss:
Accidental sleuth Abby Strickland goes to the Plein Air Art Festival where gifted artists compete for big prizes and fame, and elite art collectors eagerly search for their next acquisitions. Tension between rivals runs high as all are drawn into a web of creative envy, greed… and murder. And, for Abby, love is in the air. It’s a charming summer event… until somebody screams!
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