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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained
Gathered from museums, private collections, and the University's own buildings, a vast number of valuable antiques connected with the first two centuries of Harvard's growth are being exhibited in Robinson Hall as a part of the Tercentenary Celebration.
Divided into three arts--silverware, furniture, and paintings, the collection was gathered together by a committee of graduates to exemplify the type of artistic endeavor and domestic arts and crafts common to New England during the years 1636-1836.
Earliest College Silver
One of the outstanding pieces of silver to be seen is the Great Salt, pictured above. Coming into the possession of the College into the possession of the College in 1644, the bequest of Richard Harris, an early resident and Fellow Commoner and the brother-in-law of Henry Dunster, this is the oldest bit of College Silver now extant. As fingers were used entirely while eating, the dainty students would wipe their fingers (before dipping them into the salt) upon the napkin which rested on the three knobs which may be seen on the rim. The napkin also aided in keeping flies from the salt.
Other silver included the flagons and chalices given Christ Church, Cambridge, by King William and Queen Mary; a collection of tankards varying in capacity from one pint to a quart and a half; the magnificant Stoughton Cup; and numerous flighting fixtures--some of which even used bear grease.
Colonial mothers who were blessed with daughters seemed to have the boy question firmly under control. Historians tell us that at the beginning of a call a so-called "sparking lamp" was lit. One of these is on exhibition and contained enough oil to burn for fifteen minutes. Historians have somehow neglected to say what happened when the light went out.
In the furniture exhibition, the second major part, one finds the most practical manifestation of the truly American spirit in the crafts. Not fancy Hepplewhite, Chippendale, or Sheraton, but simple, substantial designs in pine, maple, oak, and walnut are to be seen.
Extremely rare, as there are only four or five known, is the trestle table, but probably of more interest to Harvard men is the oak cupboard which has been used by all Presidents of the College since 1681. There are also some fine cane chairs and two excellent highboys. Another article of interest is a stand-up desk which was used by the Merrills of two generations and upon which their names, written in ink upon the inside, are still faintly visible.
Faise Teeth for Washington
Well represented by prints of old college scenes, the graphic arts contain some of the rarest of the items to be seen. The two earliest known ones are being shown: the Burgis view is the only version in the first state, and is extremely valuable, and the Paul Revere prospect, said to be the only copy in a private collection. Revere also contributed several fine pieces of silverware. While few people realized it, one of Paul Revere's biggest sources of income was his manufacture of false teeth. While none of these are on view George Washington had a fine set, specially made by Revere, and it is to these, which weighed one pound, and pulled his jaw quite out of shape, that the Father of His Country owed the dour expression of his later life.
A remarkable visage of elderly vigor is the Stuart portrait of John Adams at the age of eighty, second president of the United State and Harvard 1775. This is one of the more important pictures that may be seen along with the Copleys of John Adams '87 and of that irrepressible discontent Sam Adams 1740, as well as the one of John Hancock lent by the City of Boston. Hancock was treasurer of the College from 1773-1779 while being engaged in the many patriotic duties for which he is better known. Other pictures are of Cotton and Increase Mather, of Sir Henry Vane, of Governor John Endecott, and of Jeremiah Dummer, Jr. The only modern note injected into the exhibition is the famous Charles Hopkinson life portrait of the late Charles W. Eliot.
Forerunner of the modern slide-rule, "Napier's Bones," is among the other articles to be seen in Robinson Hall. The "bones" are tiny pieces of wood, one-quarter inch square in cross section and two inches long. The whole set is about the area of a playing card. Each face of the bones is neatly inscribed with multiples of each of the nine digits, and computations are made by sliding the bones until the proper figures are in alignment. The set was owned by Samuel Webber, President of Harvard from 1806-1810.
Cows and Counterfeiters
Cows, the first subjects of vacination, leading the way to a medical practice which has meant so much to the world, are memorialized in a set of Staffordshire ware also on view. The set of china was presented by Dr. Edward jenner, English physician and discoverer of vaccination, to Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse, a member of the Harvard faculty from 1783 to 1812.
Dented and blackened with age, a few tiny pieces of silver are evidence that as far back as the middle 1600's there were counterfeiters abroad in the land providing just one more obstacle for the struggling colonists to overcome. Genuine coins which are to be seen include three of the "pine tree" variety and four "oak tree." There was a third type minted, a "willow tree" design, but there are none of this pattern in the Robinson display.
The three-fold exhibition in Robinson Hall has proved one of the popular spots to the thousands who have visited "Harvard on View." Hours for visiting the exhibit are on September 19 between 10 o'clock to 5 o'clock or one September 20 from 1 o'clock to 5 o'clock.
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