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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Joseph Kneeland, American (Boston, MA 1700 - 1740 Boston, MA)
"The John Vassal Tankard"
Work Type
c. 1729
Creation Place: North America, United States, Massachusetts, Boston
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

17.2 x 11.9 cm (6 3/4 x 4 11/16 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • inscription: Mark, near lip at side: Kneeland.
    Inscription, bottom: Donum Joannis Vassale / Commensalis / A.D. 1729.
    Engraved, front, with Vassal arms .


Recorded Ownership History
John Vassal, Class of 1732, gift to the President and Fellows of Harvard College, 1729.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Loan from Harvard University; Gift to Harvard College from John Vassal, Class of 1732, 1729
Object Number
European and American Art

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The following eight vessels constitute Harvard's ceremonial silver. They are taken out of Harvard Art Museum storage and displayed only for the most important occasions, most notably for presidential inaugurations. Information about their history and display are in the files of the University Portrait Collection:

"The John Vassal Tankard", by Joseph Kneeland, American, 873.1927
"The William Vassal Tankard" by Joseph Kneeland, 874.1927
"The Dunster Tankard" by Ephraim Cobb, American, 876.1927
"The Stoughton Cup" by John Coney, American, 877.1927.A-B
"The Holyoke Caudle Cup" by John Coney, 878.1927
"The Hedge Tankard" by Edward Winslow, American, 879.1927
"The Great Salt", unidentified British maker, 881.1927
"The Browne Cup," by John Burt, American, 882.1927.A-B

This pair of tankards documents the designation of John Vassal (Class of 1732) and William Vassal (Class of 1733) as "Fellow Commoners." In return for a donation of silver and higher tuition, Fellow Commoners were listed at the head of their class, addressed as "Mister," and dined at the high table in the commons Hall.

Publication History

  • Sandra Grindlay, "Harvard's Portraits: An American Treasure", Harvard University Art Museums Review (Fall 1992), vol. II, no. 1, pp. 6-7, p. 6
  • Timothy Anglin Burgard, American Art at Harvard: Cultures and Contexts, brochure, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 1994), p. 10, cat. 14
  • Jeannine Skerry, "'Ancient and Valuable Gifts': Silver at Colonial Harvard", New England Silver and Silversmithing, 1620-1815, The Colonial Society of Massachusetts (Boston, MA, 2001), pp. 183-209, p. 190-191, fig. 5
  • Jeannine Falino, ed., New England Silver & Silversmithing 1620-1815, The Colonial Society of Massachusetts (Boston, MA, 2001), Pp. 190-191, Fig. 5; Pp. 183-209
  • Peter Benes and D. Brenton Simons, The Art of Family: Geneological Artifacts in New England, New England Historic Genealogical Society and Northeastern University Press (Boston, Mass., 2002), repr. as fig. 4 on p. 181 [with 874.1927]

Exhibition History

  • American Art at Harvard: Cultures and Contexts, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 10/01/1994 - 12/30/1994
  • The Persistence of Memory: Continuity and Change in American Cultures, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 07/29/1995 - 05/13/2001
  • 32Q: 2340 Cabinet Gallery, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 09/24/2019

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This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of European and American Art at