Silver tablewares are luxury items that need to appeal to fashionable buyers, and yet are small enough to be easily transportable. This makes them excellent heralds of any new style, and they were one of the key ways in which Neoclassical design travelled to America in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
George Washington’s purchases for his stepson John Parke Custis were among the earliest non-rococo examples, imported while America was still a British colony, and are paralleled in the purchases made by Southern gentlemen like Arthur Middleton on their Grand Tours. American diplomats such as Thomas Jefferson and John Adams acquired fashionable accessories while stationed in Europe, and the French Revolution brought pieces of the highest level onto the market, to be secured by Gouverneur Morris and Chancellor Robert Livingston.
As the commercial relationship with England stabilized, merchants of New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston resumed their purchases, while France supplied splendor directly in the purchases of Presidents Madison and Monroe, and indirectly in the plate brought by foreign ambassadors to the new capitol. All of this provided examples of Greek, Roman, or Empire magnificence to compliment evolving American architecture, and to inspire American craftsmen, through the successive waves of Classical taste in this period.