The Legacy of Silver
Silver from the Permanent Collection
September 14, 2006 through February 11, 2007
The Legacy of Silver showcases selected pieces the museum’s diverse collection of silver, including several by Little Rock silversmiths Silas Toncray and D.C. Fulton.
Arkansas during the 19th century afforded few opportunities for silversmiths. The frontier population lacked the means to purchase silver artifacts and the Civil War brought additional hardships. Ultimately, the industrialization of the silver trade signaled an irreversible change from precious originals meticulously crafted in individual shops to semi-pure mass production churned out in the large factories along the Eastern seaboard. As a result, there were fewer than 200 silversmiths in Arkansas from 1819 through 1870 compared to more than 300 in Tennessee and almost 1,000 in Kentucky during the same period.
Among the few Arkansas silversmiths of that era, Silas Toncray and D.C. Fulton are possibly best known. Toncray, a native of Maryland, arrived in Arkansas around 1821, advertising his services not only as a silversmith, but also as a Baptist preacher, merchant, whiskey seller and fur trader. He created several silver pieces for the trousseau of his niece Jane Eliza Mills, when she married Arkansas Gazette publisher William E. Woodruff in 1827. The Legacy of Silver showcases a number of artifacts he designed during the 1820s.
D.C. Fulton was born in Pennsylvania and lived in Kentucky before spending more than 20 years in Arkansas. He thrived in his adoptive state, where he owned a lucrative jewelry store. His impact as a silversmith appears to have been less important although he produced steady work between 1842 and 1865. A number of his designs are on display in the exhibit.
In addition to the Toncray and Fulton pieces, the exhibit also presents examples of coin silver and sterling silver, some created by Tiffany & Co.