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Presentation key

Object Name: Key
Date: 1863
Related People:
Medium: Silver
Dimensions: Overall: 5/8 × 8 1/2 × 3 3/4 in., 8 oz (troy) 5.3 dwt (1.6 × 21.6 × 9.5 cm, 257 g)
Place made: North America, United States, New York
Description: Skeleton key with cast stem and applied rectangular geometric bit; stem accented with cast auricular foliate drops at end; oval loop handle with auricular foliate accents at top.
Credit Line: Gift of Mrs. Stephen Weart Giles, in the name of Stephen Weart Giles
Object Number: 1914.18
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Marks: Engraved along shaft above bit: "To John S. Giles, Esq., Treasurer / from the WIDOWS of the NEW YORK FIRE DEPARTMENT / 1863"; on front of bit: "Presented / April 15th 1863"; stamped along side of bit: "WM GALE & SON / 925 STERLING"

Gallery Label:

On April 15, 1863, the Widows of the New York Fire Department presented this silver key to John Spencer Giles (1799-1881), a devoted long-term member of the New York Volunteer Fire Department. Among his many offices, Giles served as treasurer of the Widows and Orphans Fund, where he dispensed thousands of dollars in pensions to families of fallen firemen. Keys have a long history as symbolic gifts. In the United States, the gift of ceremonial keys represented an official bestowal of power as well as an honorary welcome or access to a city or organization.

Provenance:

John Spencer Giles (1799-1881), who married (1st) Mary Anne Thorne (1803-1846); probably to their son John Christie Giles (1825-1893), who married Isabella Lee Weart (1827-1890); to their son Stephen Weart Giles (1849-1914), who married Virginia Walker (b. 1853), the donor.

Exhibitions:

"Stories in Sterling: Four Centuries of Silver in New York," New-York Historical Society, May 4–September 23, 2012.