Punch Bowl, c. 1790-1800
One of the pioneer collectors of American Art and Americana was Baltimore physician and Master Mason William H. Crim (1845-1902). Born near Lovettsville in Loudon County, Virginia on January 8, 1845 his talents and tastes would bring him to the forefront of Baltimore society. After completing a collegiate course at Gettysburg College, Pennsylvania, William Crim began the study of medicine in a private office in Lovettsville, Virginia. Latter he matriculated at the University of Maryland, completing his training in 1870 with a year’s residency at University Hospital. In March of 1873 after moving to Maryland he petitioned and was raised in Oriental Lodge, No. 158 shortly after they were founded (Oriental Lodge, No. 158 Charted June 27, 1871).
From all accounts, it may be inferred that, Dr. Crim was a remarkably energetic individual. In addition to practicing medicine in Baltimore as a surgeon and physician, he conducted private classes in medical instruction. He was also active in the Fifth Regiment Infantry of the Maryland National Guard, serving as Captain and Assistant Surgeon from 1872 to 1880, and subsequently as Major and Surgeon in 1881. Dr. Crim participated in all the regiment’s campaigns until age disqualified him from service just prior to the Spanish-American War.
As a collector his tastes were eclectic and objects, particularly furniture, were often embellished. Historical associations and patriotic sentiment appear to have determined the course of his collecting with the majority of his collection having historical ties. Among the items crammed into his Baltimore residence at No. 413 West Fayette Street were furnishings that had belonged to Robert Gilmor (1774-1848) and the Princess Mathilde (1820-1904), Daughter of the King of Westphalia, Jérôme Bonaparte (1784-1860), the husband of Baltimore native Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte (1785-1879). One of the more imposing items was a life-size marble group depicting the ‘Three Graces’ by the Italian sculptor Antonio Canova (1757-1822) previously owned by General George Washington Whistler (1800-1849), father of the artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903). His obituary published on November 16, 1902 in the New York Times noted that “Dr. Crim’s home is a museum of rare antiques. The spacious old-fashioned house in West Fayette Street is filled with paintings and curios. An extension table in the quaint dining room was used by President Lincoln during his first term in the White House. Two spoon urns belonged to Charles Carroll of Carrollton. A double sofa, a card table, and hall chairs by Chippendale, that once graced the library of Chief Justice Taney, … a secretary presented by the French Minister to President Buchanan, and a bookcase with diamond cut glass doors, an heirloom in the family of Commodore Buchanan of the Confederate Navy, are part of the collection. In one of the bedchambers is the famous Lafayette bed, a massive four-poster, which stood in the room occupied by Lafayette at the old Fountain Inn during his visit to Baltimore [in 1825]. Another four-poster is of the famous Jefferson design. The walls of one curio room are lined with weapons of the last 200 years. A pistol, two pikes, and a rifle that were used by John Brown and his party at Harper’s Ferry occupy a prominent place.” His southern sympathies in the then ‘Late War’ are evident in his participation in the dedication of a statue of General Robert E. Lee (1807-1870) by French sculptor Antonin Mercié (1845-1916) in Richmond in May 1890, for which he personally designed the fasces-shaped floral arrangement. He also obtained for his collection a number of notable Confederate relics, including the percussion cap revolver manufactured by Leech and Rigdon carried through the War by Confederate Col. Harry Gilmor (1838-1883) of Maryland.
After his sudden death on November 15, 1902 from heart disease at the age of 58 his widow, Mrs. Ella G. Crim (?-1903) formerly Mrs. Hazleton of Philadelphia, placed his collection on the auction block. In Baltimore for ten days, April 22 to May 4 the public flocked to the Fourth Regiment Armory to bid or merely gape at the liquidation sale of Dr. Crim’s collection. Consisting of a total of 2941 lots and realizing the sizable sum of $70,000, the auction was immediately followed by a second sale of miscellaneous items sold in his residence consisting of architectural salvage and his rare book collection which included a set of Audubon’s Birds of America. The press reported the proceedings daily, noting how ‘local society folk collectors and dealers” contended “good naturedly against out-of-town curio hunters.” The highest price at the auction, however, was $8,000 paid by a New York dealer, acting on behalf of the Gould family, for eight armchairs optimistically attributed Thomas Chippendale (1718-1779), which had formerly been in the possession of Francis Scott Key (1779-1843).
Among the many objects in his collection were a number of items decorated with Masonic symbols. While many of these items were sold in the 1903 sale, including lot 1615 “Rare Old Liverpool “Masonic” Pitcher, an Exceptionally Fine Piece,” Dr. Crim also bestowed some items to friends while others were privately sold after his passing by his widow to members of the fraternity. Alfred E. Mealy is believed to have obtained this Chinese export punch bowl decorated with Masonic symbols from Dr. Crim’s widow. He subsequently presented the bowl to the museum in 1910.