D.P. has a handsome pewter tankard enameled with the ensign or burgee of the Boston Yacht Club. The engraving reads "1904 Cruise 2 days Run, Won by __ ." No name is engraved. (Was this "lifted" previous to the race? Or were mugs issued before the race and turned in later for engraving?) Yet this mug is a good example of the importance of provenance, which means from where the object hails, who owned it and what it represents. Sometimes providence IS the value, not the material itself. We have here a few elements of provenance to analyze its value.
First, provenance is established in history. The tankard represents an early example of the tradition of the cruise. The year, 1904, is early because only in 1922 was the Cruising Club of America founded. And what an upper-class (male) tradition it was: The charter states "a person eligible for membership in the club must be a sailor and a gentleman of acceptable character and personality."
Second, valuable provenance is established because of specific origin. As contrasted to the tankard's two-day run, today the venerable Boston Yacht Club's cruise is a seven-day trip, from Portland, Maine, to Falmouth to Potts Harbor, to Sebasco, to Riggs Cove, then to Ebenecook Harbor. Marinas and restaurants are booked for the cruisers built for long-distance sailing, which excludes racer yachts. Cruiser yachts are often large enough to be permanent domiciles or at least large enough to house a crew.
Third, provenance is established because of a specific place: The Boston Yacht Club in Marblehead, Mass., was founded in 1866 by three young Dartmouth alums. When this tankard was presented, the BYC operated from six stations: those in Boston, Marblehead, Dorchester as well as Sheepscot Bay, Maine.
Fourth, provenance is established because of proximity to celebrity. The BYC has a distinct association with the America's Cup, winning it 10 times through the late 19th and early 20th centuries, three times in the 1930s and 11 times from 1958-77. BYC member Governor General Butler purchased the early schooner America in 1873. Mr. Butler and then his nephew saw to it that the America flew the BYC burgee for 27 years. BYC is the founding host of the National Disabled Sailing Championships.
Thus, the provenance of the mug is solid. The tankard represents a tradition, a place and a famous origin as, indeed, it is birthed from one of the nation's top yacht clubs in an early year for the sport of cruising. The tradition of a trophy mug to toast a winning goes back to the 16th century. A tankard with a thumb piece like D.P.'s was one of the earliest-known pewter forms. Those who collect yacht club memorabilia would pay for this birthright.
Let's contrast the object's provenance (one could also say pedigree in this case) with the material. Pewter, an alloy of lead and copper with tin, was collectible until it was discovered in the early 20th century that lead is a poison. It was one of the most common materials for plates and drinking vessels from the 16th through 19th centuries. Scrap pewter, unlike scrap sterling, is worth $3 to $5 per pound at a scrap yard, so the material does not figure significantly into its value.
D.P. could look into its value by mentioning its provenance to The Pewter Society, www.pewtersociety.org. Another resource is www.pewtersellers.com.
Finally, D.P., see if the maker was local to Boston or had some tie with the BYC. For example, perhaps the maker made trophies like this for 75 years for the club, which would increase its value. Look for the tankard's touchmark. If it says "pint" or "quart," a capacity mark, we will know it is NOT an American make, rather it would be British; by the legislation of those imprints, D.P. can date his pewter to the mid-19th century or later. By the way, on the oldest pewter, look for touchmarks of quality metals used, such as the crowned rose or crowned X. Condition is often an issue with pewter; because of its easily dented softness, pewter, when damaged, is devalued.
D.P., because provenance is site-specific, market is important. The buyer who would pay the most for your tankard is most likely someone with a close association with the Boston Yacht Club. Better to offer a piece like yours to Boston-allied people who long to have it than to post it to thousands on eBay.
The value to the right market? $200. The value to the general market? $40.
Certified appraiser for estates, inheritances and trusts.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart's column appears every week in the Salon & Style section of the Santa Barbara News Press. Email her your questions and high-resolution photos at ElizabethAppraisals @ gmail.com
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