The days are getting shorter and there’s a chill in the air. That can mean only one thing – it must be Fall. Time to bring out your umbrella and heavy wool sweaters and think about turkey dinners, jack-o’-lanterns and polishing silver.
There will be plenty of occasions to use your vintage silver in the coming weeks – Thanksgiving is an obvious one, and if you’re like me, you’re already counting sleeps until Christmas. But there’s another festive event coming up soon that is the perfect opportunity to use your vintage silver: Halloween. Yes, Halloween!
So, bring out your silver, but don’t dust it or polish it just yet. In fact, the more tarnished the better. If there are cobwebs hanging off it, even better. Bring out all those dinged and broken pieces you’re hiding in the back of the cupboard too. They’ll fit right in with a Halloween themed tabletop. Let’s look at some inspiration to get us started.
Vintage silver lends itself well to Halloween decorating. The grey pallor of old tarnished silver evokes the neglected and forgotten. JL Designs used this to good effect when they combined old silver-plate with antique objects and floral arrangements. They used black, grey, and muted “lifeless” colours to create an eerie, dark Victorian Gothic setting for an outdoor Halloween party.
Candle sticks are an obvious choice for Halloween decorating. In the images below, silver candle sticks have been draped with cheese cloth to give a cob-webbed effect. To “age” cheesecloth, dye it in a bath of strong tea.
If you happen to have a candelabra, you don’t need much more; they’re eerie all on their own. In this chilling scene from “The Innocents”, a candelabra shares centre stage with the sublime Deborah Kerr. I can’t imagine this scene with a flashlight!
Ornate pieces (especially Victorian era pieces) lend themselves particularly well to Gothic-themed settings. Here, ornate “claw” sugar tongs become sinister implements for the serving of “eyeball” appetizers.
Silver trays and compotes display my favourite poison in this “death by chocolate” themed dessert table.
Consider stocking up on silver goblets. These are a very common find in thrift stores and are usually really cheap. I often wonder how it is that so many of these goblets end up in thrift stores. I think people get them as gifts and after a few uses, realize they make terrible wine glasses and so pass them along. Besides making you feel like you’re taking Holy Communion with each sip, they really do add a strong metallic taste to wine and they need constant polishing because of finger prints. While they’re not practical as general use glasses, they would make great party glasses, especially for Halloween. Left tarnished, they’ll add a decayed elegance to your bar (they’re unbreakable too!).
Eddie Ross inspires us with an elegant “Gothic Glam” display for coffee service. Here vintage silver provides a bit of glimmer with a soft muted grey patina. (Click on the image to get the instructions for making the feather boa wreath).
In a similar theme, this table setting uses black dyed cheesecloth as a runner over a creamy white tablecloth. The table is set with assorted styles of ivory china. Black crows perch on a pair of epergne displaying decorated gourds. An ornate silver bowl and little silver urns hold more gourds. The black, grey and antique white colours used here create a a formal setting, but the decorated gourds and little spiders add a bit of whimsy. The result is an elegant but very fun holiday table.
Martha Stewart uses compotes to hold sparkly mini-pumpkins:
Vintage ivory and celluloid handled cutlery is most often found in oranges and earth tones – traditional Halloween colours. Nothing has to match, just pick up pieces as you find them and add them to what you already have.
Your silver serving pieces don’t have to stay in the dining room. Here they have been incorporated into mantle piece displays with old books, candles and an assortment of antique objects. Compotes display gourds and provide a perch for sinister crows, trays frame creepy black and white images and lidded jars hold curiosities. Check out this artist’s photo stream and in particular have a look at her very spooky votive holder.
I hope this post has inspired you to incorporate your vintage silver pieces into your Halloween decorations. Consider themes such as “forgotten”, “neglected”, “discarded”, “forsaken”, “relinquished”, “romantic”, gothic” and “tarnished” when designing your Halloween displays with vintage silver. Look around at what you already have and hit the thrift stores for new pieces. The old and shabby can create a more effective display than Dollar Store novelty items. Plus, after a polish, they’ll be ready for Christmas!
After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing, after all, as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true. —Spock
Something tells me that Spock wasn’t a silver collector, but even so, his observations about desire will certainly ring true for many us.
I think collectors of all sorts are driven to their obsession in part by the appeal of the “quest”: that endless search for that one special object of desire. Perhaps it’s the thrill of finding the “only one ever made”, discovering that “once in a lifetime” find at a garage sale, or maybe the hope of finding the one missing piece that makes a collection complete. Whatever it is, the quest keeps the passion of collecting alive. Silver collectors have plenty of temptations to choose from. From rare pieces in rare patterns to pieces of incredible antiquity to just about anything in between, the world of silver collecting holds many treasures.
I have quite a wish-list of my own. Perhaps not surprising, most of them are Georgian sterling pieces. Yeah, I know, they’re on every silver collectors’ wish-list - here’s a few selections from mine:
Georgian sterling sauce-boat.
They can be ridiculously expensive and they’re usually too small to function as gravy boats as we use them today. Still …
Sterling punch bowl.
The “Nog” should be served up in style. Besides, the bowl can also serve as a wine cooler, so it is kind of practical, isn’t it?
Anything hollow-handled in the 1886 “Renaissance” pattern by Reed and Barton.
It is such a wonderful pattern!
Tilting teapot in sterling.
I think tea would taste so much better served in a pot like this.
While not quite an obsession, I admit to spending some time perusing online auction listings to see if by some chance, one of my dream pieces is listed. Now, none of these items are difficult to find. In fact, some come up on online auctions all the time. However, it is not just the finding of the object – it’s the finding under just the right circumstances. Maybe someone will mistakenly post a Georgian sauce-boat as a silver-plate creamer under kitchen goods for .99 and no one but me will discover it? Maybe I’ll find a sterling punch bowl mixed in with the plastic bowls at the local Goodwill? Perhaps on the same day I’ll find a Renaissance ladle in the cutlery bin? Part of what motivates me to check out my favourite thrift store on the way home from work is my eternal quest. What are the chances of finding one of my particular items there? Pretty slim… okay, almost non-existent… but I look anyways. I looked today!
But, it’s not just price that drives the eternal quest. I once found a listing for a Georgian sterling sauce-boat on Craigslist. The seller was a most pleasant fellow silver collector downsizing her collection. The sauce-boat was exactly as advertised, in excellent condition and was a very good price. However, I didn’t buy it. Something wasn’t right – for some reason, it wasn’t my sauce-boat. I have not yet found just the right one.
When I find it, I will know it. I am happy to wait because as Spock observed, there is much pleasure to be had in the wanting. So the eternal quest continues.
Welcome to Repousse – part 2. This post carries on from part 1 where we learned about the repousse silver working technique. In this post, we’ll learn how the repousse technique inspired 19th century American silver manufacturers to create entirely new and distinctive silver tableware patterns.
The repouse technique became very popular with mid-19th century American silver makers, especially those working in the city of Baltimore, Maryland. Out of Baltimore emerged a number of silver manufacturing companies who, driven by a creative and entreprenurial spirit, produced a range of highly ornate tableware and holloware in numerous repousse-styled patterns. So closely associated is Baltimore with repousse silver, that the highly ornate and deeply patterned silver created there came be to known as Baltimore Style Repousse. Some of Baltimore’s early silver companies, such as Stieff and Kirk, remain important names in the history of American silver and the repousse patterns they created are among the most enduringly popular silver patterns ever made.
The Baltimore silver companies produced dozens of patterns in a wide range of tableware and holloware (the catalogues featured hundreds of individual pieces). They employed scores of highly skilled craftspeople who, for the most part, made these hundreds of individual silver pieces by hand. (At this point I should clarify that while Baltimore Style Repousse was inspired by repousse work, it may not have been made with the repousse technique. As indicated below, some tableware pieces were stamped and others hand chased (or carved). Holloware pieces were hand-worked in the repousse style.)
This silverware was expensive and was well out of the reach of the average worker (who would have to spend nearly a month’s salary on a single place setting). However, it was not produced for the average worker. The silver manufacturers were eyeing Baltimore’s ever-expanding and ever-wealthier upper classes who were making fortunes in the city’s highly competitive shipping and transportation industries (and whose newly-built mansions were being decorated in the latest styles).
Let’s have a look a some of the Baltimore silver companies and examples of Baltimore Style Repousse.
Silver-maker, Samuel Kirk, founded the Kirk silver company in Baltimore in 1815. It was largely due to Samuel Kirk that Baltimore became the centre of American repousse silver. In 1828, Kirk introduced a highly ornate floral pattern which he called Repousse. Completely unlike the plain colonial-styled patterns popular at the time, Repousse was an instant hit.
Here’s a water pitcher in Kirk’s Repousse. It is a magnificent pattern!
So popular was Kirk’s Repousse that it inspired other Baltimore silver-makers to create patterns in the same highly ornate style.
Jenkins and Jenkins.
Jenkins and Jenkins was founded in Baltimore as A. Jacobi in 1879. It was suceeded by Jacobi and Jenkins in 1894 and then formed as Jenkins and Jenkins in 1908. Here is an example of their pattern called Repousse c. 1890s.
Highly ornate ewer, note the ram’s head on the the handle. Click on the image for more detailed photographs.
Stieff Silver Company.
Stieff Silver was founded in Baltimore by Charles Stieff in 1892, and the first pattern produced by the fledgling company, Maryland Rose, was introduced in the first year.
Here’s an example of Maryland Rose (aka Stieff Rose), sterling, c. 1892.
Stieff went on to create similar ornate repousse patterns such as Chrysanthemum, in sterling c. 1904, shown here with a corset-shaped handle:
In 1915, Stieff created the Princess pattern (aka Hand Chased Rose). It is very similar to their classic Rose pattern and the two are often confused. However, there are key differences between the two. Whereas Rose is a stamped pattern, Princess is hand-cut with a higher relief. Also, no two pieces of Princess are exactly alike because of the hand working. It was a much more expensive pattern to produce and it had a retail price at least double that of Rose. Please see here for a more detailed comparison of the Stieff’s Rose and Princess patterns.
Stieff introduced Forget Me Not in 1919.
Here’s an example of the Stieff Rose pattern in holloware, this one a chocolate pot c.1900.
The Schofield Company.
The Schofield Company was founded by Frank Scholfied in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1903. Scholfield came from a silver-smithing family and had worked at both Gorham and the Baltimore Silver Company before founding his own company. Schofield produce their sterling repousse-style pattern, Baltimore Rose, in 1904.
Here’s an example of Schofield repousse-made holloware, a covered vegetable server.
Other Baltimore silver companies that produced repousse patterns include Andrew Ellicot Warner, A.G. Schultz and Co., Ritter & Sullivan, Otto G. Faber, and James R. Armiger Co. Examples of their work (and others) can be found here.
These highly ornate patterns became very popular and were quickly picked up by other silver companies. Some patterns were produced in sterling, but others were produced in more affordable silver plate. Here’s a few examples of the many patterns created in the Baltimore style:
Towle’s Arlington, sterling, c. 1884:
Tiffany’s Repousse, sterling c. 1875-1891.
Alvin, Bridal Bouquet, sterling, c. 1932.
National, Narcissus, silverplate, 1935.
After looking at these patterns, I cannot help but be reminded of the Indian thimble shown in Repousse – part 1. I think it likely that Kirk took inspiration from Indian export silver that was popular in the day.
The Baltimore silver companies are now gone. Most have been bought up by large international corporations. Kirk and Stieff were merged in 1979 and were purchased by Brown-Forman (maker of Jack Daniels and other distilled spirits), then Lenox Brands. The patterns are currently licensed for manufacture by Lifetime Brands, who also own the Wallace and Towle Silversmiths names. Some of their patterns are still in limited production, such as Steiff Rose, but the handworked repousse is no longer being made.
Baltimore Style Repousse is highly collectable and vintage pieces are readily available. Most collectors want older pieces, especially those dating to the high point of the style (pre-WWII) and the prices of the older period reflect their popularity.
In closing, here’s a video showing examples of Baltimore repousse.
Today marks the 99th anniversary of the sinking of the great ship, the RMS Titanic. Late on the night of April 14, 1912, the Titanic struck an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland and within hours she sank into the frigid waters of the north Atlantic taking the souls of more than 1,500 people with her.
No ship rivalled the Titanic’s luxury. Built to service the highly competitive trans-Atlantic route, the Titanic was designed by her owners, the White Star Line, to be the largest and most opulent luxury ocean liner in the world. The ship was lavishly decorated with exotic woods, luxury fabrics and expensive furnishings. Her grand staircases, great ball rooms, dining rooms, libraries, reading rooms, and luxury state-rooms were decorated in opulent period continental styles. The first-class lounge was decorated in the style of the Palace of Versailles and the grand state-rooms were in the style of the Italian Renaissance.
The Titanic had three main dining rooms for first, second and third class passengers. Each dining room was with outfitted china, crystal and silver that coordinated with the theme of each room. The first and second class dining rooms were grand in scale. The third class dining room, while spartan by comparison, was bright, comfortable and spacious.
The luxury appointments of the first class dining room extended to even the smallest details of the dining tables. Hand-cut crystal drinking glasses were supplied by Stuart Crystal. Various Stoke on Trent pottery firms supplied the fine gold-rimmed china. The flatware used in the dining rooms was silver-plated and a variety of patterns were supplied by different companies including the well-known firms of Elkington, Walker & Hall and Mappin & Webb. When it sank, the Titanic carried over 44,000 pieces of cutlery!
The china and crystal patterns of the White Star Line are well catalogued and original pieces of White Star Line china survive to the day. It is also possible to buy reproduction pieces. This company sells both original and reproduction china and crystal and they also have original pieces of White Star Line silver.
Given its prestige and rich history, perhaps it is not surprising that many companies claim that they supplied the luxury goods for the Titanic. Arthur Price and Co. advertise that they supplied the White Star Line with silverware in the Panel Reed pattern for use in the first class state-rooms. They have re-created the pattern to commemorate the upcoming 100th Anniversary of the Titanic’s 1912 launch. Here’s a sample of the pattern:
While Panel Reed cutlery was recovered from one of the Titanic’s copper dishwashers, near the stern section of the wreck in 1994, some Titanic enthusiasts question whether any of it was manufactured by Arthur Price and Co.
The Elkington Company (you may remember this name from a previous post) did provide the White Star Line with silver for the Titanic. Their Du Barry pattern also graced the tables of the upper class dining rooms. Elkington still produces a pattern called Du Barry which they claim is the same as that produced for the White Star Line. You can even order it engraved with the White Star logo.
However, as with Arthur Price & Co.’s claims, some Titanic enthusiasts also question Elkington’s claim that their current Du Barry is the same pattern they made for the White Star Line. They claim that none of the silver recovered from the Titanic to date looks anything like the current incarnation of Du Barry.
Here are some images of White Star Line silver of the type that would have been used on the Titanic. The small fork on the right appears to be the Panel Reed pattern. The large fork and spoon are the Old English pattern. The knife on the left could be a Ribbon and Reed type pattern. While the manufacturer’s mark appear on the backs of the pieces, I cannot make them out.
Here’s an image of some of the silver that has been recovered from the wreck of the Titanic. You can see that it has not faired well from its time time at the bottom of the sea. Based on the handle shape, I speculate that it could be the same Ribbon and Reed pattern as the knife in the image above.
With next year being the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, who knows what treasures may be brought up from the depths of the Atlantic?
Vintage tableware collectors often come across pieces of unusual flatware and have no idea what they would have been used for. From the Victorian era up to World War II, silver companies produced tableware for practically every conceivable food item and their catalogues were bursting with hundreds of specialized utensils from asparagus hoods to zabaglioni spoons. Here’s a great example of one of those highly specialized items that would have been right at home on an Edwardian table. Can you guess what it is?
The folks at Kovels know! Follow the link to see what it is:
Silver Mystery Solved | Mystery Marks | Kovels.com.
Some of you may have been wondering what the name of this blog, “repousse” refers to. It is a fair question; after all it is not an overly familiar word and yet it is significant enough to be the name of a blog about silver. Repousse is a metal-working technique whereby patterns are created by hammering, embossing or pressing from the reverse side. The result is a raised relief pattern on the front of the object. The word’s origin is French from the term meaning “to push back”.
The patterns created with this technique can range from very simple to highly ornate and when combined with other techniques, such as chasing, the decorative possibilities seem to be endless. As the video below demonstrates, repousse-work is time and labour intensive.
As indicated in the video, repousse is an ancient technique; it has been used by metal-working artists for thousands of years. In the 3rd century BC, the Greeks used repousse to embellish their bronze breast-plate armour. The Egyptians created death masks from gold repousse inlaid with semi-precious stones. Let’s look at some examples of repousse work, some of it very early.
Bowl in silver with radiating repousse petal design, 16.7 cm, 8th–6th century B.C., likely produced by the Phrygians of central Anatolia.
Gundestrup Cauldron, Denmark, 1st century B.C. This vessel is made from silver repousse panels showing animals and mythological creatures. It was found in a bog in Denmark in the late 1800s and is the largest surviving piece of European Iron Age silver work (69 cm in diameter.). Click on the image to learn more about this interesting piece of early European silver.
This stunning bowl is gilded repousse silver from China, Tang dynasty (7th-8th century):
Below is an Iranian repousse ewer, brass inlaid with silver, c. 1200.
In India, artisans created highly detailed decorative items from silver. The deep patterns and rich detail of Indian silver inspired 19th century American silversmiths who were influential in the creation of a distinctive American repousse style (which will be covered in part 2). Below is a 19th century Indian repousse bracelet:
19th century Indian repousse bowl showing village scenes:
Repousse silver thimble, 19th century. Made in India for export to the British market.
In about the 16th century, the repousse technique became very popular with European silver-makers who used it to create spectacular religious, decorative and table-ware pieces.
Below: Mantle clock, sterling and tortoise shell, c. 1710. Repoussé silver by German silversmith, Johann Andreas Thelot.
English sauce-boat, sterling c. 19th century, showing how the repousse technique creates a raised design on the exterior of the object and a reverse design on the worked interior.
(This particular item is currently up for auction on eBay. Click on the image to follow the link).
Hinged pill-box produced in Birmingham also showing worked interior surface. Sterling, 1899.
This post is but a brief introduction to repousse. It is a vast subject for research and could easily form the basis for an entire blog. I will continue my sketch in Repousse – Part 2, where I will discuss the repousse style silver patterns of mid-19th century American silver-makers. In the meanwhile, you may want to have a look at this video featuring the repousse work of Florentine silversmith David Bigazzi.
The large silver tray from the Charlie Chaplin estate I featured in a previous post was re-listed on Ebay in mid-November 2010. This second auction was more successful - the tray sold for US $5,975.00. The scrap value is about $4,300.00.