A Brief History of Sterling Silver

An article that outlines the use of sterling silver, written by Joseph P. Brady (Beverly Bremer Silver Shop Historian).

A Brief History of Silver

The process of extracting and refining silver dates from the third millennium BC, and the metal was well represented in the wealth of Mesopotamia, Babylon, Egypt, classical Greece and ancient Rome. Silver’s unique properties have made it a wonderful medium for the decorative arts, and its intrinsic value as a precious metal has made it the ultimate and everlasting recyclable. As fashion changed over the decades and centuries, silver has been melted and reshaped into new forms, and in times of economic crisis, for individuals and nations, it has been converted into coin. Its reflective qualities have made it an ideal material for the display of power, wealth or reverence, in palaces, cathedrals, temples and the great houses of Asia, Europe and the Americas.

It was during the Renaissance that silver began to become important for display: An impressive show of silver objects was a telling measure of a person’s wealth and social standing. In the English court, New Year’s gifts of silver were customarily exchanged, and silver was of foremost importance for state occasions. At the same time, silver was the preferred material for the wealthiest aristocratic and merchant classes. The social, rather than the economic, aspects of silver were taking shape.

Etruscan spoons dating from 700 BC are not unlike the ones we use today, and knives were always present at the table, but it was in 16th century Italy that forks began to replace fingers for conveying food to the mouth. As the fork’s popularity spread to France, great changes in manners began. Foods that had previously been eaten by dipping fingers or bread into a common bowl came to be eaten with spoons and forks from individual plates, and by the late 1600’s there existed different plates for different foods. Further, individual chairs replaced benches at the table. This revolution, of sorts, greatly affected the silversmiths’ output, and before the close of the 17th century silversmiths found themselves making large matching services for their wealthy patrons. It was the beginning of table silver as we know it today.

In the 18th century silver more and more became the tangible evidence of wealth, and men a women carried their hard-earned and carefully hoarded coins to the silversmith to be made into usable objects. Theses pieces retained their intrinsic value while being used for celebrations, daily routines or mere display. It is from the American colonies that we get the term American Coin Silver. Although this phrase is commonly linked to simple pointed-end, round-end or fiddle-back spoons, early American silversmiths were, like their English and European counterparts, producing church silver, tankards, beakers, tea sets and tea caddies, trays and salvers, porringers, braziers, candlesticks, etc. The word coin as it pertains to these articles of American silver mainly defines the source of the raw material: Until the 19th century, coins provided the silver makers of nearly all countries with raw material when bullion was scarce, but since silver was not mined commercially in the United States until the 1850’s, coins were the American silversmith’s major resource.

At the beginning of the 19th century, silver services were comparatively simple. However, rising middle and merchant classes on both sides of the Atlantic, as well rich industrialists in the United States, created a great demand for silver objects. The urge to display affluence, along with impetus given by exhibitions in 1851 and 1862, led not only to more ornate styles but a wide range of new serving and individual pieces. This Victorian explosion of tableware seems to have begun simply enough, with the fashion for separate fish knives. Followed, of course by the addition of the fish fork. By the 1870’s, dinner consisted of from five to eighteen courses, and, as one etiquette book stated, the guest could expect “a bewildering array of glass goblets, wine and champagne glasses, numerous forks, knives and spoons.”

Silver manufacturers were soon trying to outdo one another, with one American maker offering 20 different types of individual place setting spoons, 12 different forks and ten different knives. In addition to individual dinner forks, medium forks, dessert forks, fish forks, oyster forks, lobster forks, terrapin forks, salad forks, berry forks, pie forks, fruit forks and ice cream forks, there were specialized forks for serving beef, sardines, bread, olives, asparagus, pickles, etc. The list of specialized forks, spoons, flat servers and knives is almost endless, and reflects, in part, the spiritual need of Victorians to demonstrate the superiority of Man over all other creatures.

Nineteenth-century silver manufacturers had placed great emphasis on industrialization and modern manufacturing techniques, but the early years of the 20th century saw a move to widen the gulf between artist and industrialist. The Arts & Crafts Movement, which saw its beginnings in Europe and spread quickly across the Atlantic, put emphasis on the individual craftsman. The movement saw the important role that craft can play in the “humanizing” of society. The workers in this tradition have aspired to lofty goals, taking the silversmith back to role of artisan. The period between the World Wars brought about great stylistic changes, with the introduction of “Modernism”, later termed the “Art Deco” style. As we begin the 21st century, these objects too are finding their place in museums and private collections.

Though we may lament that much old silver has been lost to the whims of fashion or the loss of fortune, we must also remember that the nineteenth century saw a taste for collecting antique silver: Pieces once melted and refashioned began to be collected for their aesthetic appeal. The same period saw a burgeoning spirit of inquiry and research, and as the 19th century gave way to the 20th, scholarly publications and exhibitions brought new information, and exciting pieces of silver, to light. Silver has a past, a present and a future, and, in many ways, it lives in all three.

Joseph P. Brady

Silver Historian, 2007

To see more sterling silver, take a look around our website : www.beverlybremer.com

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Sterling Silver Goblets

A brief history of sterling silver goblet with links to over 50 different styles, pictured with desciptions.

The goblet is a descendant of the Standing Cup, an iconic symbol of royalty and an important piece on banquet tables in the 16th Century. Standing cups were typically 12 to 20 inches tall, and the wine in them was shared among the guests. In contrast, today’s sterling silver goblets range from 6½ to 8 inches in height; Each guest at the table has their own, filled with water. Although the styling and purpose of the goblet has changed since its inception, it remains a focal point on a perfectly set table.

Of bell shaped form and raised foot, goblets are as diverse in design as flatware, in fact some popular flatware patterns have matching goblets.

Examples Include:

  •  Chantilly by Gorham
  • Repousse by Kirk Steiff
  • Francis I by Reed & Barton
  • Rose Point by Wallace
  • Prelude by International

Given as a wedding present or to commemorate an event, a sterling silver goblet is a gift that is beautiful, useful and has with lasting value.

For in-depth instructions on cleaning and caring for goblets, please visit our website in the caring for section of www.beverlybremer.com.

Our current inventory of goblets is available online here.  If you already have some goblets and are looking to add to a set, please look on the bottom of the goblet, under the stem for the maker (it may written out or symbolized) and the style number.  You will need both to match your goblet.  If you are unsure of the maker, please comment here (or email us: sterlingsilver@beverlybremer.com) with a description of the mark!  We would be happy to help you!

Francis I by Reed and Barton

An explination of the origin of the Francis I pattern by Reed and Barton

  

Francis I by Reed & Barton

Francis the 1st by Reed & Barton
Francis I by Reed & Barton

 

Francis I pattern was introduced in 1908, after 3 years of design work by Ernest Meyer. His goal was to emulate the design work of a chief court artist and sculptor for King Francis I of France, Benvenuto Cellini. The pattern is in the Renaissance-Baroque styling, displaying 15 fruit and flower designs, paying tribute to Francis 1st throne entrance in the year 1515.

 In figure one, you will see the old maker’s mark of Reed & Barton signified with an Eagle, a Lion and the letter “R” accompanied by the word sterling. The old mark was made prior to the 1950’s, after which the maker’s mark changed to “Reed & Barton” accompanied by the word sterling.

Maker's Marks by Reed & Barton
Maker's Marks by Reed & Barton

Francis I pattern by Reed & Barton has been one of the most recognized and collected patterns:  Known as the pattern of presidents and princes. In fact Eisenhower, Truman and Wilson were among the many leaders who collected this very pattern!

Burgundy, introduced in 1949,  is the sister pattern of Francis I that has less intricacy that can be paired to make a beautiful less busy set. Below is a picture that can be used for comparison.

 

Burgundy Handle by Reed & Barton

Checkout all of our other patterns by Reed & Barton at:

 Beverly Bremer Silver Shop

 Beverly Bremer Flatware Patterns

 

Do you have any patterns that you would like to know more about? 

Please comment and we will be happy to post more information on this website!

History of Reed and Barton

A brief history of the origins of Reed & Barton Manufacturing Co.

 A History of Reed & Barton

Reed & Barton manufacturing company dates back to the founding of a jewelry shop in 1822 in Taunton, Massachusetts by Isaac Babbit. The shop later turned its focus to pewter in 1824, where Babbit worked on innovating his materials and developed Britanna Metal, a combination of tin, antimony and copper, making a material more lustrous and white than pewter. After Babbit gained popularity with his craftsmanship and quality, two designers, Henry Reed and Charles Barton, partnered with the business. The company began to experience hardship and Babbit sold the company and factory in 1834 to Reed & Barton.

Taking their knowledge of crafting and innovation, Reed & Barton produced “in the metal” flatware and holloware, meaning that raw unplated pieces were sold to plating factories. They maintained this practice until the discovery of the Comstock Lode in Virginia City, Nevada in 1859, making silver widely available in raw form in the US.

With their knowledge of creating raw metal goods and recent fame, they soon created and cast the first Reed & Barton sterling pattern, Flora, circa 1890.

Sugar Shell in Flora by Reed & Barton
Sugar Shell in Flora by Reed & Barton

A focus towards more sterling patterns in holloware and flatware such as Francis I led them to great success as an American sterling producer.  For example, among the most popular patterns was a Francis I sterling silver 7-piece tea and coffee service and tray. Maker’s mark of Reed & Barton, Taunton, Massachusets: Comprising a tea kettle, teapot, coffeepot, cream jug, covered sugar bowl, waste bowl and tray; the tea service pieces with baluster form bodies, chased with fruit, blossoms, and foliage, with cornucopiae enclosing a vacant cartouche on either side, the shaped oval tray with bracket handles and conforming decoration.

7 Piece Francis I Tea & Coffee Set by Reed & Barton

In the 1996 Olympics, hosted by Atlanta, Reed & Barton was chosen as the designer and creator of all the medals for the awarded athletes.

Gold Medal Designed for 1996 Altanta Olympics
Gold Medal Designed for 1996 Atlanta Olympics

Currently, Reed & Barton is known as the oldest independently owned American producer of sterling flatware and holloware patterns. They have expanded into other divisions of tableware including stainless steel, crystal, china and even plastic ware; They are also the world’s largest producer of wooden chests. Despite changes in leadership and economy, living by the motto of high quality pieces and excellent customer service, Reed & Barton has been able to thrive for more than 185 years.

 Would you like to learn more about Sterling Manufactures?

Please comment and we will post the answers on this website!

What is The History of Buccellati?

Buccellati History and Sterling Silver Pattern Productions

In response to a question asked by a collector of Buccellati Esteval, Beverly Bremer Silver Shop has composed a brief history of Buccellati including more specifics about the pattern and its future.

Buccellati

In the Beginning of his career, Italian Goldsmith Mario Buccellati (1891-1965) carried on a family tradition dating back from the early 18th Century. In 1919 he opened his shop near the La Scala Opera House in Milan, and was the first among Italian Goldsmiths to to open a shop on Fifth Ave in New York and later in Palm Beach. As his popularity gained, his clientele came to include the Vatican and the Royal Courts of Europe, leading to his nickname, “The Prince of Goldsmiths.” Mario Buccellati drew upon the work of the Renaissance and Eighteen Century craftsman for design.

Mario’s son, Gianmaria Buccellati, became apprenticed to his father at the age of 14. Following his father’s death in 1965, he expanded the business and opened new shops around the world. Gianmaria became a leading designer of jewelry, as well as silver and gold objects dart. The quality of Buccellatti’s product was a a direct result of Gianmaria personally choosing his master craftsmen to execute his designs.

Esteval

Specifically, the Esteval pattern was named after a famous Villa in Portugal, designed with Classic Italian nature inspiration; introduced around 1920 and was continuously produced until 2001. Buccellati retained most of the global distribution rights for their sterling flatware patterns as well as much of their holloware pieces.

The production of Estaval was last carried out under Gianagelo Pradella. He was considered the best silver producer in Italy. After his retirement he closed the his factory and the pattern was no longer produced.

Since the closing of Pradella’s factory, Gino Buccellati of Bologna has started replicating patterns over the past 6 years, reintroducing Torchon and Borgia. He has recently been working on others to reproductions, Esteval being a likely choice of interest. Unfortunately, the dies that are needed to reproduce patterns take a very long time to complete and perfect. Hopefully in the future we will see more quality flatware coming out of Buccelatti and Italy.

 

Common Patterns Include :

(click the link to see what we have in stock)

References include:

  1. Joseph P. Brady (Silver Historian)
  2. Tim LeRay (Previous Executive Vice President, Buccellati)

Do you have questions regarding sterling silver patterns or serving pieces?

Please comment and we will investigate an answer!

Fish and Visitors: The Fish Slice

An history of the developement of sterling silver fish slices around the world.

Joseph P. Brady Silver Shop Historian

There have been specialized types of flatware-the sardine fork, the cucumber server, the hot cake lifter, etc.-made mostly during the Regency, Victorian, and Edwardian ages, but the fish slice (along with its cousins the tart and pudding servers) is among the earliest of such individualized utensils. The eighteenth century laws that helped to enrich already rich landowners, and the Industrial Revolution, which created a rising middle class of merchants and professional people, created a new appetite for silver tableware that was not satisfied with just knives, spoons, ladles and forks. Specialized servers “in the French manner” we desired, and these broad-blade servers led to a revolution of their own at the table. Its form was largely dictated by its special function, yet this noble piece still manage to speak to us of elegance and grace. Saw-piercing, bright cutting, and elaborate cartouches make these blades their natural home.

1
Figure 1

 

2
 Figure 2

 The fish slice, then, is a broad blade or trowel shaped server, most often used for dividing and serving fish at the table, but the earliest examples were used to serve fried fish directly from the pan (fig1). These early servers, circa1740, use the name “slice,” but their blades are rounded and symmetrical. Elaborately saw-pierced, their main purpose was to drain unwanted cooking juices. As whitebait was commonly fried in the eighteenth century home, the early examples where called whitebait servers. More elongated slices, fish shaped but still symmetrical, appeared after about 1745, and these eventually evolved into the a symmetrical fin shape we see most often(fig2). The symmetrical shape still persisted, but such later examples were usually longer and slightly pointed. Further, the most familiar scimitar blade was rarely made before 1800. The earliest known example was possibly made in London, ca. 1780, by Joseph Steward II (pudding and cake servers appeared at the same time).

The scimitar blade made its first known appearance on the Continent around 1780, but on either side of the Channel there is a bit of a gap, from the early 1780s until the early 1790s, during which almost no such examples were produced. The study of existing examples would suggest that the scimitar shape made its return around 1790 and saw steady gains in popularity until, by circa 1800, it had become the preferred shape for the fish slice. The blade recalls the shape of a fish’s fin, but a suggestion has been made that, especially in its more elongated form, it resembles the outline of a headless fish. This would be very much in keeping with the manner in which the fish appeared at the table.

The baroque and rococo style saw-piercing of the earliest fish slices usually covered the blade from side to side, sometimes leaving a border of less than one quarter inch, with more metal removed than retained. A close examination of the scroll work will show, however, the blade is not at all weakened and the holes are quite strategically placed. The piercing often featured a cartouche or reserve to be engraved with an armorial device or a monogram. The piercing was often enhanced by bright-cutting, with one or more fish forming a central motif(fig 3); fishnet pattern backgrounds were not uncommon. The more elongated neoclassical slices and fin-shaped examples often featured fish backbone-style piercing, while others were pierced with stars or comma shapes, using a punch. During the latter part of the eighteenth century the blade might also feature a border of classical-style interlocking scrolls.

 

3
Figure 3

 The piercing of Georgian fish slices took two forms. Saw-piercing by craftsman was the only method employed when they first appeared and was used throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, bit the steam-driven equipment introduced by Matthew Boulton and James Watt in the late 1760s resulted in mechanical die fly-cutting. This expensive equipment, however, was afforded only by the more prosperous firms , such as the Batemans in London. Pierced examples in Sheffield plate, although not common, can be found today.

As far as slicing and serving at the table is concerned, however, a question arises: How much of the piercing was functionally necessary and how much was simply decoration? After the mid eighteenth century , was usually brought from the kitchen in a pot and transferred to a mazarine or onto a ceramic fish drainer. Indeed, Rabinovitch says that ” the need for a pierced server…becomes questionable.”

Bright-cutting, rather than saw-pierced, more commonly characterizes the decoration of America fish sliced, but many elaborate pierced examples of coin silver can be found. Chasing of the blade became more common in the Art Nouveau period, and early twentieth century examples were usually left plain.

 Joseph P. Brady

Beverly Bremer Silver Shop Historian

Pie and Cake Servers, The Tasty Truth

Cake and Pie Servers History in Recent Past: Read this article to find out about the origins and fucntionality of this vital utensil.

 
Fish Slice
Fish Slice
Pastry Server
Pastry Server
Pie/Cake Server
Pie/Cake Server
Cake Server
Cake Server

You slice into the fresh chocolate cake, seeing the shine of the silver server glimmering in the low light after dinner,  slicing with the motion your grandmother did with the same server.  You think to yourself how many times she had used this utensil before she gave it to you, forgetting the fact just an hour ago you found out you were having in-laws over for dinner.

Gathering for meals has been a time honored practice that dates back before cakes!  In fact the development of tools such as the cake server and the fish slicer were only developed a relatively short time ago.   Beginning as a rough device made from various metals, this perfected piece has been used for many items besides cakes, in fact it is probably the only utensil you cannot do without.

The use of various metal fish, pudding and cake slices (iron, pewter, silver) is well documented as far back as the 16th century. The English cake-like puddings, both savory and sweet, were abundant and, in fact, dinner time was just as often called “pudding time.” These early puddings, which could be meatless, or which could contain meat, fish or fowl, were the earliest foods to be served with flat-blade slices.  Also, a distinction was made between these servers and general cutlery — They were servers for cooked foods, with nothing near the same sharpness of knives.  It should also be noted that stuffing was also commonly called puddings.

 The fish slice and the cake slice seem to have a common ancestor, or set of ancestors, in the trowel-shaped implements that served puddings. During most of the 18th century, both were of similar form, but the fish slice developed a wide, offset scimitar blade, while the cake slice remained more trowel-like. As the 19th century progressed, the trowel, sometimes flat, sometimes “dished,” became standard. By the late 19th century, American silver manufacturers were offering pie knives, pastry servers and cake slices, all of similar but slightly different form, within the same pattern.

In 1909 Tiffany & Co. was offering a “strawberry shortcake server” in addition to pie knives, pastry servers and cake servers. Straight cake slices were also introduced, with either a flat edge or with saw teeth. This explosion in the number and diversity of all kinds of silver servers, and the increased role of the dining rituals that spawned them, is directly related to the expansion of the US economy from the end of the Civil War until the 1920’s.

The Cake Server is flat and is designed for cutting and laying a piece on its side while removing it from the cake. The Pie and Cake Server has a 1-inch bend that allows for a scooping motion into a pie pan as well as a smooth removal of a slice from a cake as displayed below.

Cake Server Side View Cake Server Side View
Pie/Cake Server Side View Pie/Cake Server Side View

 

 

 

Though simple, without this fine piece, there would be many cake and pie slices being cleaned up from the floor!

 

Quotes to Consider:

An article in Scribner’s, circa 1874, describes a “…cake knife which has a fine saw to its splendid blade, to divide the frosting without fracture.”

The book Savory Suppers, Fashionable Feasts: Dining in Victorian America, by Susan Williams, addresses the proliferation and use of new servers, place setting pieces and etiquette books in social and religious terms: “The publication and instant popular interest in Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species in 1859 only fueled such speculative discussions of the critical importance of manners…”

 SOURCE: Joseph P. Brady Beverly Bremer Silver Shop Historian