I may have tweeted smack about it when I thought it was just old newspapers and coins, but that's only because initial headlines of Samuel Adams' and Paul Revere's time capsule in the cornerstone of the Massachusetts State House criminally underplayed the presence of this amazing, engraved silver plaque.
THIS is EXACTLY the kind of thing people should put in time capsules: slightly-precious-but-not-too items handmade to commemorate the occasion. These artifacts capture the moment, but more importantly, they retain an historical significance, and who knows, in time they may accrue an aesthetic aura as well.
The Boston time capsule plaque also benefits from the connection to the still-relevant Revere brand; whether he actually made it or not, it feels plausible, authentic. There is also the handmade aspect: I have an engraved ring, and a stationery die, but a whole engraved plaque? That's something.
[It's not the intern who wrote this USNews piece's fault for describing every item in the time capsule in terms of its market value, and the impact a Revere attribution & provenance might have on it. Every report has that. It's just another sign of who we've become as a culture. Like Antique Roadshow.]
A more interesting cultural change is the invisibility/illegibility of whatever the plaque actually says, and what it might mean. The Masonic context goes unremarked or glossed over in the mainstream coverage of the plaque. He that still hath ears, two hundred years on, let him hear, I guess.
Invisibility was one of the qualities of engraved text that appealed to Walter De Maria early in his career; he made a series of polished steel or aluminum works with engravings on them: Garbo Column (1968) had a list of the reclusive actress's 27 films; Melville (1968, above, which I have swooned over before) features the opening of the author's first hit novel, The Confidence Man.
The Barnett Newman-scale monochrome painting De Maria asked Michael Heizer to make for him for Dwan Gallery's 1968 Earthworks show has its title engraved on a polished steel plaque in the center: The Color Men Choose When They Attack the Earth. Can you read it in this picture?
Walter De Maria, Silver Portrait of Dorian Gray, 1965, at the Prada Fndn's exhibit in Venice in 2011, image: @fabyab
De Maria created at least one work in silver. It was for his patron at the time, Robert Scull, who fronted the dough for the fabrication of a series of polished metal sculptures. Silver Portrait of Dorian Gray (1965) is just that: a mirrored silver plaque behind a velvet curtain that darkens and oxidizes over time. The artist's instructions on the back offer the owner the chance to wipe away the stains of aging, though: "When the owner judges that enough time has passed, this plaque may be removed to free and clean the silver plate." The promise of immortality, the opposite of a time capsule, at least for the mirror. Your call, Miuccia!
UPDATE A brief dive into the history of time capsules tells us we need to pay more attention to the Masons, and to the Egyptians. The birth of the modern/20th century time capsule is linked to the discoveries of relic-filled Egyptian tombs and pyramids. And in a list of the International Time Capsule Society's 1991 list of the Top Ten Most Wanted Time Capsules is this:
5. George Washington's CornerstoneHere is a Mason's explanation of the cornerstone laying ceremony, one of the only public Masonic rituals. ["When the brethren are sharply dressed, and well-rehearsed, it's an awesome thing to behold." mhmm.] And Wikipedia's article on cornerstones has a brief account of a 19th century cornerstone laying ceremony in Cork, which involved "a trowel specially made for the occasion by John Hawkesworth, a silversmith and a jeweller." So maybe these engraved plaques are also a thing?
Today's custom of burying time capsules is in part an outgrowth of Masonic cornerstone-laying ceremonies. Through the centuries, Masons have officiated at rituals which often include placing memorabilia inside building cornerstones for later recovery.In 1793, George Washington, a Mason, performed the Masonic ritual upon the laying of the original cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol. Over the years, the Capitol has undergone extensive expansion, remodeling and reconstruction, but the original George Washington cornerstone has never been found. It is unknown whether there is anything inside of it.
Coins, Newspapers Found in Time Capsule Buried by Paul Revere [usnews]
Previously, very much related: While We're On The Subject Of Polished Metal Objects: Walter De Maria