A Rare Stevens & Williams ‘Newport Tower’ Goblet

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Factory: Stevens & Williams, England
Designers & Makers: William Swingewood (Snr), Harry Moore & Jack Turner
Date of design: c1939
Produced: c1939

Of great American interest, this rare goblet was commissioned for the tercentenary of the Newport Tower on Rhode Island. No other reason seems to exist as to why this comparatively little-known, but important and and intriguing, subject would have been chosen to be made by a renowned British company. Goblets or beakers containing embedded coins, tokens and similar objects have been produced for centuries to commemorate events, people such as members of royalty, or a souvenirs of visits to popular tourist destinations, and this goblet follows in that tradition.

From the late 1920s to the late 1930s, Stevens & Williams produced a wide range of goblets with large ball knops containing coins or intricately lampworked figures or other subjects. Hunting was a popular theme, but special commissions widened the subject matter considerably. A small quantity of comports were even produced to commemorate the proposed coronation and abdication of Edward VIII in 1936, each containing a coin and lampworked crown. These tiny treasures were produced by notable lampworking specialist William Swingewood (Snr), who worked at Stevens & Williams from 1928-39. Stevens & Williams historian R.S. Williams-Thomas (see below) notes that the goblets themselves were made by wine glass Master Glassmaker Harry Moore, who was ably assisted by his servitor Jack Turner.

Williams-Thomas notes that these goblets were made to “record[s] the tercentenary of the Old Colony House of Newport, Rhode Island and commemorate[s] the colony of that island, using a green ‘Round House’ in the stem.” The fourth oldest surviving statehouse in the US, the Colony House was designed by Richard Munday and built, reputedly with the assistance of African American slaves, from 1736-1739. This places this goblet to 1939, making it one of the last examples of Swingewood’s work in this vein for Stevens & Williams. Rather than try to miniatuarise the large Colony House, the already-famous Newport Tower made a perfect subject as it dates from the colonisation itself, or perhaps before (see below).

The skilfully made goblet is a large size, intended for display, and is in a style associated with Georgian drinking glasses. The bowl is engraved with a band of vines and bunches of grapes, and the foot is folded. The lampworked Newport Tower is made up of small chips of differently coloured glass that have been melted together with the handheld blowtorch used in lampworking, almost giving it the appearance of pressed slag glass.

This is a high quality, scarce piece of Americana related to the very genesis of the United States. Although one goblet is offered for sale here, a pair was acquired. Please contact me for the price for the pair.

9in (23cm) high.

About The Newport Tower
Most consider the Newport Tower, located in Touro Park historic district, to be the remains of a windmill built by early European settlers in the mid-17th century. It stood in the garden of a now-demolished mansion owned by settler Benedict Arnold, who rose to become the first governor of Rhode Island. Born in Somerset, England, Arnold may have based his on similarly constructed windmills he had seen in England, one of which survives today at Chesterton, and it is thought his windmill was built sometime between 1651 and 1677. Archaeological digs, scientific studies and comparisons of materials all indicate that the present construction was erected during this period of European settlement of this part of the US.

However, since the mid-19thC there has been much speculation that the tower is in fact much earlier in date. It does not look like and is not built like any other Colonial buildings – including grist mills – of the period, and there is no actual record of who built it or when. Futhermore, there is no actual evidence indicating it was ever used as a windmill and none to show that any internal structures had burned down. Although a claimed Viking/Norse origin has now been proven to be incorrect, the tower is aligned astrologically with four of the columns lining up with the four main compass points, suggesting an earlier construction and use. This may be accidental, but would explain why the arches/windows are oddly placed.

It has also been suggested that the tower was built by 15thC Chinese settlers, 17thC Portuguese settlers, or by Templars a century before Columbus’ voyage, but these theories have been debunked. Despite hard facts to the contrary, the debate continues to rage today, with some still claiming the tower replaced a much earlier, geoglyphologically important building that dates back to the 15th century but that saw its origins long before Columbus’ voyage, over seven thousand years ago. Whatever the truth, The Newport Tower celebrated in this rare goblet is one of the most important and recognisable early American buildings.

This goblet is mentioned in The Crystal Years: A Tribute to the Skills and Artistry of Stevens & Williams Royal Brierley Crystal by R.S. Williams-Thomas, published by Stevens & Williams, 1983, on p.64. Swingewood’s work, and that similar to it, is also discussed in 20th Century British Glass by Charles Hajdamach, published by Antique Collectors Club, 2009, pp.178-181.