Tea or hot water urn

Maker: John McMullin (1765–1843)

Date: 1799

Geography: Made in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States

Culture: American

Medium: silver with ivory handle

Dimensions: 21 3/4 x 11 1/8 x 13 1/8 in., 166.253 Troy Ounces (55.2 x 28.3 x 33.3 cm, 5171 Grams)

Classification: Silver

Credit Line: Purchase, Sansbury-Mills Fund and Frank P. Stetz Gift, 2009

Accession Number: 2009.420.2


The yellow fever epidemic of 1798 devastated the city of Philadelphia, killing thousands of its residents and forcing many to flee what was then America's largest city and the nation's capital. Among those who remained to treat the stricken was Dr. Philip Syng Physick (1768–1837), "the father of American surgery." For his exceptional dedication, the directors of the City Hospital presented him with two magnificent pieces of silver, each fashioned in the Neoclassical style with bright-cut paterae and floral festoons. The twelve-sided urn is further ornamented with lion's-head handles and an American eagle finial. The tray, exceptionally large for its date, is inscribed underneath: "John McMullin / Fecit / Philada 1799." Each piece is also inscribed: "From the Board of Managers of the Marine & City Hospitals to Philip Syng Physick, M.D., this Mark of their respectful approbation of his voluntary and inestimable services as Resident Physician at the City Hospital in the Calamity of 1798." Dr. Physick valued these objects so highly that he named them specifically in his will, bequeathing the tray to his eldest son, Philip, and the urn to his youngest son, Emlen. They have now been reunited after 172 years.