Coincidence? I Think So…

Terzameron Day 7
March 27, 2020

Ben Miller




My colleagues’ writing hands are getting sore, so it’s my turn at the wheel. This is Ben Miller, Director of Research. You’ve heard stories from Shrubsole’s vaunted past, but what about its vaunted present? In my five years at the firm, I’ve witnessed a good story or two myself–including this astonishingly improbable encounter.


A few years ago a friendly fellow came into the shop carrying a silver bowl. It was an old family heirloom, he told us–but he wasn’t sure how old, or what branch of the family. Could we tell him something about it, and help the family decide what to do with it? It was a form typical of early 18th-century New York; unmarked, but with an engraved monogram that the family hadn’t been able to decipher.




A little Photoshop magic revealed the letters in the monogram: PDL, forwards and backwards, in what’s known as a mirror cypher. And some genealogical digging identified the monogram’s owner, and a direct line of descent: Pieter DeLancey, the Bronx merchant whose brother is the namesake of Delancey Street.


Eschewing the crass commercialism typical of our age, we counseled the family to donate the bowl to the New-York Historical Society, which they happily did. But here’s where things got weird.


While all this was happening, a matched pair of early New York cast candlesticks came up at a regional auction house. It’s an incredibly rare form, with only about eight pairs known–a fact lost on the auctioneer, who had also failed to recognize the maker’s marks, and estimated their value near scrap at $200-400. We bought them for cheap (though not quite that cheap) over the phone, sight unseen, taking a risk that they might be fake. Word had gotten out, and before they had even arrived at the shop, a client called up to ask for right of first refusal. When the box arrived we were thrilled to find that they were right as rain. Moreover, the maker’s mark on one, described by the auctioneer as BB, was in fact a conjoined BLR, the famous mark for the great Bartholomew Le Roux II. And the other was a cast copy made some 20 years later by Thomas Hammersley to replace a lost or broken original.



But also unnoticed by the auctioneer, on the foot of the Le Roux candlestick, was a tiny engraved monogram. The letters P and E under a conjoined D/L. Pieter and Elizabeth DeLancey.


Here we had, in the shop, what might be the only two surviving pieces of early DeLancey family silver. Both hitherto unknown. Both out of the family for the first time in 200 years. Both showing up at our doorstep within weeks.


Not long thereafter, New-York Historical hosted us and the donors for a lunch to celebrate the gift of the bowl. The client who’d bought the candlesticks agreed to loan them to NYHS so they could be shown alongside the bowl. And, at this lunch, it was one of my great professional pleasures to unveil the candlesticks to the astonishment of curators and Delancey descendents alike.

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