TOLER, JOSEPH, gold- and silversmith, painter, and engraver; b. c. 1810 in Halifax, son of John George Toler; married; fl. 1831–42.
Joseph Toler’s father was draftsman to the civil department of the Royal Engineers in Halifax and an amateur water-colourist. It is assumed that he instructed his son in the rudiments of painting but there is no record of Joseph’s trade apprenticeship. By May 1831 Joseph was established in business as a gold- and silversmith with premises on Argyle Street in Halifax. A few examples of his work are preserved in the Nova Scotia Museum. Not all the pieces have his complete mark – J.T.H with sovereign’s head and lion passant – but the punches are highly distinctive.
Within a few years Toler seems to have abandoned silversmithing in favour of painting. An advertisement of 17 June 1834 in the Halifax Times announced that he had removed to Mrs Grover’s Hotel and offered likenesses at 5s. coloured, 2s. 6d. bronze, and 1s. 3d. black. By 1837 he had set up in a studio on Hollis Street opposite St Matthew’s Church and was also painting miniatures on ivory and cardboard. It was as a miniature painter that he advertised himself in the New-Brunswick Courier on 21 April 1838. Emphasizing that he would be in Saint John for a short time only, he offered miniatures on ivory at a price of from £1 and on board from 6s. 6d.; he had, he stated, “taken at Halifax alone more than one thousand.” From Saint John he proceeded to Fredericton, where he advertised his services in the Royal Gazette on 20 July. He was back in Saint John the following year. Around March 1840 Toler became the drawing-master in the school opened in November 1839 by the Mechanics’ Institute of Saint John. When the school year ended in the spring, an exhibition of his students’ work was held. Noting that Toler had been in charge of the drawing classes for only about six weeks, the Morning News gave high praise to his efforts: “In this short time the dexterity acquired by all of his pupils, and the beauty and taste displayed in their drawings, prove at once his talents as a teacher, and his diligent exertion of them.”
Toler’s subsequent career is more obscure. On 16 March 1840 he had given notice in the Morning News that after 1 May he proposed to stop taking likenesses and return to metal work. Just six weeks later, however, he indicated his intention to open a school “in which the various branches of Drawing & Painting will be taught.” Whether this establishment saw the light of day is not known. Among the services Toler offered in an announcement of 20 May, which ran until the end of the year, were gold and silver work, metal gilding, copperplate engraving and printing, wood cutting, and miniatures. In 1842 he advertised landscape and drawing classes. Nothing further is known of him, but it is thought that he may later have spent some time in Fredericton. Examples of his miniatures may be seen in the New Brunswick Museum.
Acadian Recorder, 14 May 1831, 11 Feb. 1837. Morning News (Saint John, N.B.), 16 March, 27 April, 25 May 1840. New-Brunswick Courier, 21 April 1838; 13 April, 27 July 1839; 2 May 1840. Royal Gazette (Fredericton), 20 June 1838. Times (Halifax), 24 Nov. 1837. Harper, Early painters and engravers. D. C. Mackay, Silversmiths and related craftsmen of the Atlantic provinces (Halifax, 1973). G. [B.] MacBeath, “Artists in New Brunswick’s past,” Arts in New Brunswick, ed. R. A. Tweedie et al. (Fredericton, 1967), 121–48.