The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere’s . . . Bowl?
You’ve probably heard of the Liberty Bell, but have you heard of the Liberty Bowl? Not the college football game played in Memphis, Tennessee, but an actual bowl made of silver. This may sound weird, but the production of the Liberty Bowl was a dangerous act of sedition, so much so that its creator, Paul Revere, never mentioned it in any of his business or private papers for fear of retribution. And, yes, you heard right, Paul Revere, that famous night rider.
A History Bowl
Besides being an entrepreneur and political activist, Paul Revere was a master silversmith, and, in 1768, he was commissioned by The Sons of Liberty, of which he was a member, to create a bowl in celebration of the “Glorious Ninety-two.” The number referred to a vote in the Massachusetts Assembly of 92-17 to disobey an order by King George III demanding they rescind a letter circulated among the colonies. The letter, in response to the Townsend Acts, encouraged the other 12 assemblies to join with Massachusetts in petitioning the king to repeal what they saw as unfair taxation.
Revere’s bowl was most likely modeled after the Delft punch bowl, which was inspired by far Eastern ceramics imported to England and the colonies. It measured 11 inches in diameter at the top, was constructed of 45 grams of silver, and was designed to hold 45 gills of rum punch (over a gallon in modern terms). The numbers 92 and 45 were etched into its surface along with the names of the Sons of Liberty and patriotic slogans and symbols. Like 92, the number 45 held significance as the cell number in which John Wilkes was held in the Tower of London. Wilkes was known to the colonists for his writings critical of the king. Perhaps most notable of the bowl’s etchings are the two that read “Magna Charta” and “Bill of Rights.”
Not Just an Artifact
Paul Revere’s original bowl is now displayed in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. It stands not only as a symbol of America’s history, but also as a masterpiece of silver craftsmanship. Revere completed the bowl within five weeks of the 92-17 vote, which meant that within that time he would have completed hundreds of hours hammering it on a polished anvil just to form its shape. This doesn’t take into account the time spent etching the intricate designs and names.
In celebration of this achievement, the bowl has become a mainstay of modern silversmiths who reproduce it in various sizes for celebration and for everyday use. It is often given within local Boston organizations to remember special events or to recognize the achievements of organizations and individuals. But bowls are made to be used. Contemporary reproductions can be found as potpourri holders, a place to toss your car keys, as mantel decorations and on tables as serving vessels. After all, what better way to celebrate Independence Day.