The First Church in Salem is selling an estimated $1 million of communion silver that has been stored away in church vaults for centuries, hoping to raise money to repair and modernize its old building.
Among the dozen items on the auction block is a beaker made in 1670 by Jeremiah Dummer, the first native-born silversmith in America. The New York auction house Christie's, which is handling the Jan. 18 sale, expects the beaker will sell for $150,000 to $250,000.
Dummer studied under John Hull, one of the first silversmiths in America. The Dummer cup is similar in style to the oldest American-made silver cup, a beaker that Hull made between 1647 and 1652.
Dummer's connection to Newbury is still felt today. He deeded a parcel of his Newbury farm to his son, who in turn donated it for the creation of a school. That school would eventually become The Governor's Academy.
Christie's says the beaker was presented to the church by Francis Skerry, a Salem farmer who died in 1684.
Some Newburyport-made items are also for sale - three sets of silver canns made by Ebeneezer Moulton in 1805. The three sets are expected to sell for $3,000 to $6,000 each.
Also for sale is a cup given to the church by John Higginson, grandson of the church's first minister and an official examiner during the Salem Witch Trials.
The grand prize is expected to be an ornate silver tankard made by John Coney, an esteemed early silversmith, that could fetch as much as $300,000.
This is an important event for Christie's because of the connections to historic Salem and to a church that is one of the oldest Protestant congregations in North America. Its members included Nathaniel Hawthorne and two victims of the Witch Trials. Its third minister, the outspoken Roger Williams, was banished from Salem and went on to settle Rhode Island.
The sale is expected to draw the interest of collectors for a lot of reasons, including the pristine condition of the silver, which has been largely out of sight and practically untouched.
"Any 17th- and 18th-century silver that has been in a church has an unbroken provenance, so that's very exciting," said Jeanne Sloane, senior vice president at Christie's and head of the silver department. "We know exactly where everything has been since it was made."