Monday, June 15, 2009

Why all the French Touchmarks on Tiffany 1880 Silver

I have noticed that on so many of the better Tiffany pieces from the 1880 period that have come up on the market a large percentage bear French touch marks. They were obviously sold in France and most probably at the Tiffany store in Paris.

I am aware that the Tiffany Paris store was very important in the last quarter of the 19th century. In fact I was told by a reliable source that the Tiffany store in Paris was treated on a par with the New York store by Tiffany and Co.

Chatting to a very knowledgeable collector who was showing me a museum piece of Tiffany from the 1880s the other day, I drew his attention to the French control mark. He shrugged and calmly said that France was where all the money was at that time and where the real collectors were.

Putting it all together, I would guess that many of the important pieces were sold in France and that was mainly because the economy was not so strong in America at the time. Most people do not know that Wall street went through a terrible period in the last quarter of the 19th century.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A surprise in a box

Almost 25 years ago when I was in Portobello Road in London one Saturday morning I noticed an amazing child's cup in the most amazing condition and in the original box. The combination of the satin finished silver areas combined with the green gold parcel gilt and engraving was a lesson in the finest engraving and the finest example of the Aesthetic Movement.

I purchased the mug and went off on my way. I knew the dealer and I was surprised when a few minutes later they asked me if I would let them have the mug back because they did not really want to sell it.

This happens quite often in the antique trade and it could be a case of remorse on the part of the seller or anything else that would pass through the mind of the seller after too little sleep on a Friday night before the market.

I stood my ground and sounding a bit like Basil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers I said: "What is the bloody point of me looking on your stand in the first place if you want it back within a few minutes". They backed off and all was forgotten. It was not mentioned again.

The cup was sold in Kansas City at a show in that same year.

A few days ago I spotted the cup on the east coast and purchased it back. I recognized the inscription and the fantastic condition.

Twenty Five years later I was holding something that I had owned before and it was quite an odd feeling. One realized that these trinkets will outlive us all and we have to treat them as if we are just caretakers.

Take a look at the mug and details by clicking on the link below

Friday, May 29, 2009

Schultz and Fischer and George Shiebler

Schultz and Fischer leaf form bowl with handle and bug

I had no idea that Californian silversmiths were making silver in 1880 that looked exactly like the work of George Shiebler in New York. Shiebler used leaves and bugs held together with silver pins and usually lightly gold washed the pieces.

We recently found a most unusual version of this type of work by Schultz and Fischer. I had to scratch my head to work out the maker because the mark was not that clear but we managed to put it together and it all made sense.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Tiffany Vine Shown at the Columbian Expo

Tiffany Columbian Expo Mark
Tiffany Vine Forks Displayed at the Columbian Expo 1983

About 20 years ago I acquired a lightly gold washed dessert set in the Tiffany Vine pattern. After I got it home I examined it closely and noticed that five of the individual place pieces had a strange mark added to the reverse of the bowls. It turned out to be the Columbian Expo mark from 1893 indicating that these pieces were on display in Chicago in the Tiffany pavilion.

A few weeks ago the same thing happened. I purchased 11 forks in the Tiffany Vine pattern with that same gold wash. 5 of the forks are struck with that special mark. These pieces were all part of the same set.

About 3 years ago the Flagler museum in Florida held an exhibit of Tiffany silver exhibited at the Columbian Expo and I went to see the exhibit. I bought a book about the Columbian Expo pieces made by Tiffany and read at the back that Tiffany made sent 118 pieces of Vine to the exhibit.
To see the detailed pictures of the forks click on the link below:

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Gorham Narragansett Pattern

Rare Gorham Narragansett Preserve Spoon 8 3/4"

Over the past 30 years we have had the good fortune of finding many rare flatware items but the pattern that remains in our minds as the most exotic and rare is the Narragansett pattern by Gorham.

We recently found a rare preserve spoon which measures 8 3/4" long. There are numerous fish included is the applications to the central shaft among the other nautical creatures such as shells, crabs. clams and conch shells. These items are cast and applied individually and the detail never ceases to amaze admirers who examine the intricate handles.

Gorham went to such lengths to make the spoons look realistic that they included tiny globules of silver "sand" in the design. This gives the spoons the appearance of having being removed from the ocean floor. It is as if the spoon had been lying at the bottom of the ocean and the result is the encrusted look and feel. No wonder every silver collector who understands what Gorham was trying to do wants to own a piece of Narragansett.

I remember being fussy and turning down large pieces of Narragansett pattern because the Gorham hallmark was not visible. I think this was a mistake because the marks were probably lurking somewhere beneath the shells and fish and seaweed. Some pieces are marked in the bowl of a shell at the terminal but most have the Gorham hallmark on the central shaft together with the sterling mark.

Recently I found Gorham date letter for 1884 which really was exciting. This tells us that the Narragansett pattern was definitely made in the hollow ware department at Gorham and also that it was a really early example. It had great weight and proportion.

Take a look at our site to see the Narragansett preserve spoon under Recent Acquisitions:

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Christopher Dresser and Tiffany

Christopher Dresser had a huge influence on design in Britain and America and until recently I was not aware of his collaboration with Edward Moore of Tiffany.

This rare and important Tiffany tea caddy has Japanese influenced applications including the decorated ivory plaque on the front with two copper jesters. The ivory plaques are rumored to be part of a large purchase made in Japan by Christopher Dresser on behalf of Edward Moore for Tiffany.

The futuristic sputnik finial looks as if it was inspired by the novelty toast racks that James Dixon of Sheffield made from Christopher Dresser designs.

If you would like to see this tea caddy and other important Tiffany pieces please click on the link below

Monday, February 16, 2009

What the words inscribed on Shiebler pieces mean.......

Shiebler letter opener with "shalom" engraved in Hebrew
Shiebler Pin with the word "Roma" Engraved

George Shiebler's engravers used Roman and Greek related words on their Etruscan pattern flatware, hollowware and jewelry and many people are curious as to the purpose and meaning of the words.

After acquiring quite a few pieces and checking around I think I can safely say that the words are meant to look as if they were dug up with the old Roman and Greek pots and pans in an excavation.
The letters of the alphabet appear Greek or Roman in style but the words are meaningless.
I found a letter opener and paper knife with the Hebrew word Shalom inscribed. That was a first for me.
The medallions in the Shiebler Etruscan pattern have many varieties but the Roman centurion is quite clearly just that. The Greek medallions look like the ancient Greek busts.

Conclusion: After looking up the meaning of the word Etruscan, I learned that the Etruscan period refers to a culture that developed in Italy in about 800BC. This was followed by a period of Greek influence in Southern Italy dominated by Greek traders.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Importance of 19th Century American Silver

In the early 1980s few museums would give up shelf space to American Silver. This was a great pity. I remember visiting prominent museums and seeing row after row of boring tankards; all the same, lined up like soldiers.
Any collector with an eye for the unusual would take special notice of the Japanese movement, and the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th century. Finally there was an awakening spearheaded by the Dallas Museum in 1989 with the Christies sale of Sam Wagstaff's collection.

I heard a story from a dealer who has since passed that when she was planning to send her children to university, she invited Sam to her vault and opened up her drawers of silver flatware for him to pick through. Naturally he chose the best with an eye for what was great and important.

The Sam Wagstaff sale catalogue is still one of the most sought after Christies catalogues today and used as a reference book.

While British makers such as Elkington had a few great moments manufacturing special pieces of the same period and designs, the American makers like Whiting, Shiebler, Gorham and Tiffany were way ahead in design and technique.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Antique Shows

Antique shows are an excellent place to meet up with very experienced dealers. At most of the larger conventions like the Miami Beach and other Florida shows a collector can have fun meeting up with some real characters.

Most of the dealers I know have been in this business for just about 30 years. Many started off as kids as I did in 1979. They have had such exposure to the market that it is a shame that there is no law that makes it mandatory for them to put their memoirs in writing. I would match them up against the most experienced licenced appraiser any day. Knowledge that one gets off the street is just as valuable as information one can read up in a journal or a book of rules.

Getting to the top of the food chain is also expensive. The dealers that get to the top make mistakes along the way. As painful as this can be at the time, these mistakes fortify them against future mistakes and make the dealer sharper.

Other great shows are the Baltimore Summer Antique Show on Labor day week end. Here one can find almost every silver dealer in the country under one roof. Unique opportunities and with the world becoming a more expensive place every day, it would be advisable to attend before it is too late and before the Internet takes a toll on these events.

I hope you find these notes helpful. Feel free to e-mail questions about Antique Silver.