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Tiffany Silver

Book Review: Tiffany Silver, by Charles H. Carpenter, Jr., with Mary Grace Carpenter. Dodd, Mead & Co. 1978. 296 pp. Illus. Notes. Biblio. Index $25.

( Article orginally published April 1979 )

For those who may have any remaining doubts about the importance of 19th century American silver in the history of decorative arts, the Carpenter's book, Tiffany Silver, will remove all those doubts forever. It is the story of the silver itself-the tea and coffee services, the centerpieces, water pitchers, punch bowls, presentation silver, swords, guns, trophies and the flatware which have made Tiffany silver preeminent among knowledgeable collectors.

Begun as Tiffany & Young, it was at first a stationery and fancy goods store. It was launched on September 18, 1837, through the aid of a loan of a thousand dollars from Charles Tiffany's father, a successful mill owner.

Tiffany's entry into the silverware business probably began in 1847 or 1848. From 1847 to 1851 they retailed silver from a number of New York silvermakers. Among them were John C. Moore, Henry Hubbard and the partnerships of Moore & Hebbard, Gale & Hughes and Wood & Hughes. The increased demand for silverware led Charles Tiffany and his partners to the decision that they should control their own silvermanufacturing shop. John C. Moore, one of the best silversmiths in New York, was their choice for this shop. By 1855 Tiffany was recognized as the leading silverware house in New York. John C. Moore was soon joined by his son, Edward C. Moore, and it was under his guidance that the Tiffany name became world known.

Charles Tiffany was astute not only in his choice of the men to work with him, he was also a master publicist. His sale of souvenirs incorporating bits of the first Atlantic cable in 1858 was a brilliant coup which gave the store enormous publicity. This publicity would have amounted to nothing if Tiffany products had not stood on their own merits. That they did is amply illustrated by the awards won in various Expositions and in the special commissions.

The silver service made by Tiffany's in the 1870s for John W. Mackay epitomizes the sumptuous tables set in Victorian America. This specially designed service consisted of some 1250 pieces, some of them gilt and enameled. The service was made from silver that Mackay sent to Tiffanv's direct from the mine he owned in the Comstock Lode at Virginia City, Nevada. The entire service is characterized by floral ornamentation including the thistle and shamrock, American garden and wild flowers, and flowers and plants of the Orient.

Full attention is given in the book to the social history of the times and to the stylistic influences that went into the design of Tiffany silver holloware and flatware. All the standard flatware patterns Tiffany made from its beginning in about 1850 to the present are illustrated.

Tiffany also made six known custom-designed "private pattern" flatware sets in the last quarter of the 19th century and another six early in the 20th century. The story of their design and the people for whom they were made fill a fascinating segment of the book.

Also interesting, some more for their historical associations that their design, are the numerous presentation pieces made by Tiffany. These often received wide publicity and no doubt introduced many customers to Tiffany's household silverware. Chapters 12 and 13 deal with the making of silver and Tiffany marks. More than forty-five marks and variations and a listing of all of Tiffany's pattern numbers make it possible to identify and date objects with some degree of accuracy.

The book is beautifully illustrated with photographs and original drawings from the company's silver designer's sketchbooks. Everyone with any interest in silver, especially of the 19th century, will find this book almost impossible to put down once it is opened. This reviewer's suggestion is to run, not walk, to your nearest bookstore. It will be a valuable addition to your library whether you collect Tiffany silver or not. -Dorothy T. Rainwater



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