Daniel Low & The Salem Witches

Daniel Low & The Salem Witch Trial – The Journal of Antiques and Collectibles – August 2012

Salem witch neon sign

By Pamela E. Apkarian-Russell, The Halloween Queen®

Salem Village, called Danvers today, does not capitalize on the Salem Witch tragedy that took place there in the 1690s. Today, because Salem has adopted the moniker “Witch City,” everyone assumes that is where the problem began. The misuse of power and authority by the church and the ruling bodies was steeped in misogyny, hypocrisy, intolerance, and the desire for power, which was achieved through obtaining land. Land was considered wealth, and for one (Cotton Mather) the coveted position of president of Harvard College. The fact that people and even a dog were put to death, tortured, and their lands and goods confiscated, seems to be forgotten by many, or considered incidental.

The Salem Witch Trials was one of those dark segments in history which seems to be repeated over and over. (For example, The McCarthy trials represented the beliefs of a few rather than the beliefs of the American people. Those few did not have their country’s best interest at heart.) Because these women and men of Massachusetts were put to death, they became icons and heroes to the families they left behind and the many generations that followed. People came to the area to see: Rebecca Nurse’s home, Gallows Hill (no one is certain where it is), the original documents from the trial that reside in the library, the meeting house where Parris preached, and anything or anywhere relating to this blot on America history.

This was a historic tour-the social history of a time Americans could not be proud of but could and can learn much from. None of those arrested, tortured, or put to death were witches. Discriminating against other beliefs, which was exactly what the Pilgrims did not want for themselves and why they came to the new world, they certainly were intolerant of any anomaly. If the crime was to sour one’s neighbors’ milk, that was not a capital offense. Infant mortality and deaths at childbirth were unfortunately very common.

Think of the person who you know that does not like you or envies you: if a relative of theirs passed on and they had a dream where that relative appeared and said you murdered them, even if you did not even know them, you could be convicted of murder using spectral evidence. If someone coveted your antiques sufficiently they could call you out as a witch and all your possessions would be forfeited. Guess who would be a major beneficiary? Spectral evidence was eventually disallowed and mainly because of the amount of mischief that was caused by it. Thomas Putnam and the Reverend Samuel Parris certainly benefited financially by the trials and there were others who held power and rewards above truth. How does one defend oneself against such stacked odds?

It is interesting to note that women like Rebecca Nurse were more educated than the norm and many of them were voting members of the church, which was not a privilege given lightly to just anyone. This was a reign of terror. Fear of the devil, fear of Indians, fear of disease, fear of powerful wild animals and fear of your neighbor, who might mention your name as one who has signed the devils book. Are you old? Do you own a cat? Do you enjoy the song of the birds especially those adorable yellow finches which are so common in New England? Are you a better gardner than your neighbors? Does your cow produce richer milk? More milk? That would be sufficient reason to say you were in league with the devil. The only difference between the Inquisition in Spain and Europe and in the Salem Village area was the depth and breadth of it. No one was “pro-choice” in 1691. You believed exactly what you were told to believe and acted exactly as you were told to, or it could be the stocks—or worse.

Heaven help you if you were found out to have Quaker leanings. It was common knowledge that when a Quaker was revealed, they were beaten and their lands and goods were taken from them. Rebecca Nurse spoke up and took in the young son of one such family, who had escaped to the land of Roger Williams (Rhode Island). Rhode Island was an evil place where people were allowed to choose how they would observe their religion. Some of those who were fortunate enough to have been warned of impending arrest on the charge of witchcraft escaped in mid-winter and made it to the refuge of the next state.

One could go on and on about the intrigue and repercussions of the actual trials, but we assume that anyone interested would read either Caleb or the two volumes of Upham and fill in all of the gaps. Caleb was one of the few views of the silver lining in the ominous clouds that emerged out of the events. He was self-educated and scientific about his view of the trials and wasn’t afraid to publish his works, regardless of what the consequences could be.

The Daniel Low emporium was at 231 Essex Street in Salem, a short walk from the train station. In its day it was one of the most exclusive emporiums selling high-end items like sterling and gold jewelry, cut glass, and posh items that would be seen in the better homes of New England. Low was aware that so many tourists and descendants visited Salem and would love to bring home mementos. He commissioned Durgan Silversmith to make the first design, a spoon with a witch design on the handle. It was an instant success and was quickly followed by many other pieces of sterling which one could use elegantly while serving tea or in ones purse such as a stamp holder. Jewelry was made by other companies showing the same witch logo and was worn by the locals, the descendants, and those who enjoyed wearing a finely crafted piece of jewelry.

Enter Gorham Silver, which made a much fancier, cut-out, heavily embossed design. For some reason, many people think that this second design is what began the entire souvenir craze, because they are unaware of the earlier Durgan design or that the ornate second design outshadows the simplicity of the first. The first spoon opened up a feeding frenzy of marketing for towns, states, and countries because the concept was not only novel, but it was practical, and it worked. Small shops by the seaside, large cities, and countries that were part of the European tour all began to make spoons, dishes, and items with depictions of why they were so unique and special. Even companies expanded their advertising ideas and the souvenir became a major selling point.

Unlike today, when things are mass-produced and are of inferior quality on the whole, Low had set a standard that was high and most people demanded that standard. Yes, some china items were made in Germany and England, but on the whole, much of the souvenir trade was produced locally. Today, souvenirs of the Liberty Bell, the Statue of Liberty, and of just about everything else are produced in China rather than in our own backyard. Quality is not an issue as long as it is cheap, but cheap and inexpensive are often confused.

Low sold quality items at fair prices for what those items were worth. He set a standard. There was such a range and variety in his prices that everyone could afford to shop in his upscale emporium and take home a quality item after perusing through his catalogues. You could buy a gold thimble, a sterling thimble, or a silver-plated one. You could purchase a gold broach with diamonds or you could take home a lovely quality plated pin with rhinestones. The range of Salem witch items expanded with the demand but those who came to shop for a witch souvenir often left with other items as well. You could even go into their houseware department and buy everything from kettles to fine bone china.

When Jean Missud published March of the Salem Witches, which was commissioned by Winslow Lewis Commandery K.T. Daniel Low & Co, it had an advertisement on the back cover letting everyone know where they could find everything from stick pins to strawberry forks, andthimbles to jewelry. Many fraternal organizations purchased their badges and presentation pieces from Low. There are a great variety of items that were made for other shops in the Salem area as well, and it is quite common to find all types of bottles with the witch logo. Embossed bottles and those with labels are often found at bottle shows. Milk, soda, beer, witch hazel, and a large variety of cleaning products show the witch logo.

Daniel Upton’s daughter-in-law had a small shop in Salem where she sold her father-in-law’s definitive books about Salem, and a small one she had penned. She is also the one who did those lovely pieces with pretty witches dressed in red and green.

Hampshire pottery produced a milk pitcher and a Witch pitcher. They also produced these items either without a design or with other pictures. Be careful you do not fall for one of the reworked-painted ones! Also beware of items that have been remade such as taking a handle off of a spoon and soldering it on to a serving piece. These pieces are not rare—they are just fakes. Also, thimbles and salt spoons have been reproduced. A genuine sterling thimble which was made using different blanks can cost up to $1,400, while a modern reproduction costs $25. It isn’t a bargain to buy a reproduction at $300.

The range of items with the Salem Witch motif is large and varied; the quality ranges from alpha to omega, as do the prices.

The Salem witch trials caused people to look inward, as well as wonder what the problems had been when a judicial system influenced and manipulated by the church could cause so much pain and suffering, culminating in the deaths of so many people. Laws changed, as did the insane conservatism of the church. No longer were specters who visited people in dreams allowed to testify (third-party hearsay conversations). Public days of penitence were decreed but very little was ever done to help or compensate the victims. In the case of the Reverend Burroughs, who was living in Maine at the time fighting off Indians, his two children were abandoned there while he was dragged back to face charges in Salem. The suffering they experienced was beyond recompense and the pathetic few dollars doled out to a few was insult on top of injury. Confiscated property was not returned and ruined lives and health seemed worth less than a pittance.

One of the most interesting pieces of ephemera, made for the Salem Trade is also, a suffrage and a Gilbert & Sullivan collectible. The 1888 election had Suffragette Susan B. Anthony endorsing the Republican Party as they were the most sympathetic to the suffrage cause and the least opposed to it. The card is rare, only one known and valued at $400. Items from Ipswich Hosiery, that use the witch logo, are also part of the Salem Witch collectibles as many of the witches came from outlying areas and not just from Salem Village. Notably so, Elizabeth Howe also came from Ipswich. She is famously recognized as one of the witches who was found guilty and executed. To learn more about this and other topics, refer to my book A Collector’s Guide to Salem Witchcraft & Souvenirs.

A Collector’s Guide to Salem Witchcraft & Souvenirs

By: Pamela E. Apkarian-Russell
with photography by Christopher J. Russell
Publisher: Schiffer Publishing
Pages: 146
Price: Softcover $19.95

The Salem Witch trials were one of the darkest chapters in American history. With absorbing historical narrative and 300 photographs, Pamela E. Apkarian-Russell recounts three hundred years of a city’s past, from the trials themselves through the 1890s, when Daniel Low produced the first souvenir spoon, to years of memorabilia and collectibles.

The historic sites in Salem are documented through their many changes. These tourist meccas are visited by tens of thousands of people each year, whose purchases have helped to create a photo album of printed images and a treasure trove of silver and china souvenirs showing both witches and the historic sites. Separate chapters in this book illustrate the witchcraft theme as depicted on jewelry, silverware, cups and saucers, assorted chinaware, bottled goods, and a host of other interesting items.

What are your thoughts on the Salem Witch Trials?

One Response to Daniel Low & The Salem Witches

  1. Peg says:

    Hi Pamela…I own your book and love it! However, it’s gotten me in a whole lot of trouble since I bought it 14 years ago because I have turned into an insufferable Salem Witch collector! Through the years I collected Halloween stuff. Now, I primarily collect any unusual witch things but most especially I collect Salem Witch souvenirs…thanks to you. 🙂 I think you put a spell on me! Anyhoo, I’ve been searching with no luck to find a Daniel Low & Co.Year Book for 1908, or specifically the 2 pages shown from the catalog on page 18 of your book. Is there any possibility of getting a larger copy of that picture you took of it? I’m dying to see the items in their full glory as it’s much too small in the book to appreciate properly. I wouldn’t expect you to do it for free. I don’t need an actual photo just a digital copy would do if it’s even possible. I’m really obsessed with this and I’m not sure exactly why! I must be spellbound, you wonderful witch, you!

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