The Daily Pulse:

Antiques Roadshow in Knoxville; and Samuel Bell, star silversmith

Our favorite reality TV show, Antiques Roadshow, is on its way to Knoxville, which is a little nerve-wracking. We've wondered why Knoxville's never been on before; as a city, Knoxville is larger and older than several of their destinations over the last 20-odd years. Now that they're coming, do we really want our junk on national television?

As if to whet our interest, last night's show, from Corpus Christi, offered a bit of a local surprise. A Texan brought in a fine silver knife identified as the work of Samuel Bell, formerly of Knoxville.

Apparently a real rarity, it was appraised at over $60,000. The appraiser did something rarely seen on that show, where they usually show everything in close-up detail; he declined to show Bell's mark to the camera, because it's often imitated by counterfeiters.

Samuel Bell (1798-1882) was a remarkable fellow we probably ought to be more aware of, since he seems to be one of the best-known artisans who ever lived in Knoxville.  

Born and raised in Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, he worked in factories before moving to Knoxville at age 21, and set up shop here as a silversmith. At his downtown Knoxville shop, he made all sorts of things, jewelry, swords, fine tools. Bell was probably a legend in Texas long before he got there, because in his downtown Knoxville shop he created the silver spurs Sam Houston wore at the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836.

He lived here for 33 years, most of his adult life, and was pretty conspicuous. He and his English-born wife Eliza had a large family. Apparently well-liked, Bell served two non-consecutive terms as Mayor of Knoxville. He owned a lot of property and was involved in a lot of businesses. When you research antebellum Knoxville, you see Samuel Bell's name a lot.

Today he's often mentioned for his famous younger half-brother, George Washington Harris (1814-1869), writer and creator of the reckless frontier character Sut Lovingood, an American original often cited as a forerunner to Huck Finn.

You'd think that by his mid-50s, a prosperous former mayor in the mid-19th century would be pretty much done, looking forward to retirement.

But it was the early 1850s, Knoxville was kind of a frustrating place to live in some ways, still lacking railroad connections, with limited commerce and industry, and probably few customers with money enough for the fine jewelry and silverwork that Bell excelled in.

Bell followed the adventurous younger men of Tennessee, including three of his sons-- one of whom had the Indian name of Powhatan Bell--to San Antonio, Texas, where Bell probably reconnected with his old East Tennessee friend Sam Houston. There he lived another 30 years, and there he became more famous as a silversmith than as a mayor of Knoxville.

"Antiques Roadshow" will be in Knoxville on July 13. You have to apply in advance for tickets; the deadline is April 8. Tickets are free, but limited; they say they're granted at random. Check at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/roadshow/

In the meantime, look around in the silverware drawer and see if you have anything with a mark something like "S. BELL."

Comments » 0

Be the first to post a comment!

Share your thoughts

Comments are the sole responsibility of the person posting them. You agree not to post comments that are off topic, defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy. Violators may be banned. Click here for our full user agreement.

Remember personal info?



About This Blog


Metro Pulse staff members instantaneously commit their innermost thoughts to the Internet for your information and/or amusement.