Made in Dorchester: Exhibit to showcase 19th century pewter

The Gleason Pewter and Silver Plating Company on Washington Street: Photo courtesy Dorchester Historical Society.The Gleason Pewter and Silver Plating Company on Washington Street: Photo courtesy Dorchester Historical Society.

During the month of February the Special Collections Department of the Healey Library at UMass Boston hosts an exhibition of examples of Gleason's products mounted by the Dorchester Historical Society. The Gleason Pewter and Silver-Plating Company was located on Washington Street, Dorchester.

In 1818, Roswell Gleason moved from Putney, Vermont to Dorchester and found employment with Mr. Wilcox, a maker of tinware. After Wilcox retired, Gleason went into business for himself about the year 1830, beginning with the manufacture of block tin and pewter. In the 1850s, Gleason and one of his sons opened the first silver-plating establishment in America. At one time they employed 125 men at their factory on Washington Street. By 1851 Gleason had become wealthy enough to be included in a book entitled Rich Men of Massachusetts. He owned a property of 25 acres with a 1,000 foot frontage on Washington Street encompassing his house and 15 other structures including stables, outbuildings and factory buildings. Park Street was installed on the southern border of his land. When Gleason began the production of silver-plate, the style of his work began to change from the simple, traditionally inspired design of his early work to a more heavily ornamented and opulent style which better suited the tastes of his Victorian clientele. Largely due to this ability to adapt to changing tastes and to keep abreast of technical advances in manufacturing, Gleason's operation continued to prosper. In his later years, business suffered when the Civil War interrupted sales in the southern states. After both his sons died, and an explosion occurred in one of his factories, he retired in 1871 at the age of 72. He died in Dorchester in 1887.

Earl Taylor is the president of the Dorchester Historical Society. Much more on Gleason collection is available at Taylor's website, www.dorchesteratheneum.org. The exhibit at UMass-Boston can be seen daily through the month of February.

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