First Parish silver sells for record $1.8m price in N.Y. auction

The First Parish silver. Image courtesy Sotheby’s

A pair of silver cups made 311 years ago for a former minister at Dorchester’s First Parish Church were sold at an auction in New York last Friday for $1.08 million. The Governor Stoughton Cups, created in 1701 by silversmith Jeremiah Dummer, have been part of a collection owned by First Parish and stored at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. The cups were sold, along with several other silver items owned by the church, during a special Americana auction held last week at Sotheby’s. In total, the church will received an estimated $1.7 million from the sale to help complete an ambitious $5 million rebuilding project that began last fall.

Rev. Art Lavoie, the current minister at First Parish, said that the sale of the Stoughton cups fetched the highest price ever for a set of colonial church silver.

“That’s a great return,” said Lavoie. “Overall, we’re very pleased with the sale and with the job that Sotheby’s did to market the pieces.”

Lavoie said that a few pieces that didn’t sell at the auction “might have been priced too high” and could end up in next year’s auction.

The Stoughton cups are named for the Dorchester minister who also became infamous for his role in presiding over the Salem witch trials.

A Soethby’s catalogue section on the cups described them as being ”of exceptional size for the period, and with Baroque details that are surprising given the donor’s Puritan outlook, the Cups are finely engraved with the original Stoughton arms and remain in exceptional condition.”

In addition to the cups, a set of silver beakers were also sold for $380,000, Lavoie said. They were left to the church by Thomas Lake, who was a member of the church in the 17th century.

The cash generated by the sale will be used to fund the continued restoration of the historic church’s exterior, Lavoie said. The infusion will also help the parish leverage more donations that will be needed for interior fixes.

“It gives us some credibility with major donors and foundations,” Lavoie said. “It shows we’re stepping to the plate with our own resources and committing a million and a half to the job. It will help them look at us differently.”

Lavoie said that restoration work that started last fall is focused on repairing windows along the south-facing side of the church along Parish Street. Workers from the North Bennett Street School removed a dozen windows that they are in process of restoring over the winter. The north-facing windows will be done this year, Lavoie said.

“That’s a great step for us,” he said. “There won’t be any more work until the weather gets better.”

The existing First Parish Church, which dates back to Dorchester’s original settlement in 1630, was built to replace an earlier structure that burned in 1896. The church’s steeple— which had begun to tilt in recent years— was removed in 2006 amid fears that it could topple. The congregation voted to sell its silver collection last year as it launched a capital campaign to fund the repairs.