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.