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Sterling Silver Ornaments: A Brief History

September 7, 2011

The traditions of Christmastime are what make the season so special and loved. Everyone has those decorations, meal menus, and practices which warm their heart and make them smile. Ornaments, as one of the most repeatable features from year to year mark them as a valuable inclusion that need to last for years to come.

Sterling silver ornaments do just that!

Silver manufacturers have consistently produced lines of ornaments in series that make for easy, tasteful, and beautiful tree-trimming, with a shine and sparkle that will become a highlight in your home. The various motifs—snowflakes, crosses, characters, or carol references—reprise the earliest ornaments.

2011 Snowflake, 42nd Edition, Gorham

Evergreen boughs or other fresh foliage were brought into the home during winter time to remind families of the promise of life after the cold winter. The tradition of employing an entire tree became common in Germany in the nineteenth century. Over time, fruit or nuts would be included in the display. Bread and cookies were also used; they were shaped and baked in various forms many of which we find today. Stars, hearts, angels, and bells were common! Germans are said to be the first to design reusable ornaments during the 19thcentury specifically for use on greens in winter, and F. W. Woolworth in the 1890s may have been the first American retailer to offer ornaments in various materials.

The creation of ornaments in sterling silver was a practice that took off in the United States in the 1970s. The reflectivity, durability, and adaptability of silver made it a perfect choice for traditional ornaments. Some single issue ornaments were made by various manufacturers in the 1960s, but with only a mild reception. Gorham, however, introduced its Snowflake in 1970 to overwhelming success. As a result, 1971 marks the year that a number of silver companies began series of various silver ornaments. The Reed & Barton Cross dates to this year, Towle it’s first “Twelve Days of Christmas” series, and Wallace’s “Peace Doves”. The Metropolitan Museum of Art even introduced its own line of Snowflakes.

2011 Christmas Cross, 41st Edition, Reed & Barton

2011 Christmas Cross, 41st Edition, Reed & Barton

Forms of sterling ornaments vary, but most common are winter or Christian symbols like snowflakes, bells, angels, crosses, stars and nativity scenes. Stylized references to Christmas carols are popular.

Completing a series of ornaments is most collector’s goal in time. Reed & Barton’s sterling Christmas Cross collection is the most complete with a new edition offered each year up to the present. The Gorham Snowflake was made in 1980 in silverplate, but that remains the only deviation to the otherwise sterling designs.

2011 St. Peter Ornament, 1st Edition, Wallace

2011 St. Peter Ornament, 1st Edition, Wallace

Beverly Bremer Silver Shop already has in stock this year’s editions of many series of ornaments (we even the first edition of a new series!) as well as a number of editions from years past in some of the most popular lines. Check your collection to see what you need!

Written with input from various sources, most notably Hart, Peggy and Arthur. “Sterling Ornaments, 2002” 2002.

Fish and Visitors: The Fish Slice

August 18, 2011
CLUNY by GORHAM

Cluny by Gorham

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” were 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 manages to speak to us of elegance and grace.  Saw-piercing, bright cutting, and elaborate cartouches are natural on these blades.

DOLPHIN by GEORG JENSEN

Dolphin by Georg Jensen

The fish slice 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. These early servers, circa 1740, use the name “slice,” but their blades are rounded and symmetrical.  Elaborately saw-pierced, their main purpose was to drain unwanted cooking juices. As the whitebait fish 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. 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; 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.

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, but 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 slice, 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.

From the many examples of Georgian fish slices available for study it would seem that their handles evolved in somewhat loosely defined manner with the earliest known examples having flat silver handles in the “Hanoverian” style.  From about the mid-1740s until the mid-1760s loaded hollow silver handles were popular, as were handles of wood, ivory, or bone. The return of the flat handle employed styles that most often mirrored contemporary flatware patterns and which were sometimes made as part of a larger service.  Still, the other variations continued to be made.  Elaborately chased hollow handles in the form of a fishware often made, and ivory handles were sometimes stained green, or turned and carved.

Joseph P. Brady Silver Historian

DOLPHIN by GEORG JENSEN

Dolphin by Georg Jensen

Sterling Silver Christmas Cross by Reed and Barton

August 9, 2010

2010 Sterling Silver Christmas Cross by Reed and Barton

2010 Sterling Silver Christmas Cross

2010 Sterling Silver Christmas Cross

Length is 3 1 /8 inches, weight is 0.55 troy ounces.

The 2010 Christmas Sterling Silver Cross by Reed & Barton celebrates 40-years tradition of extraordinaire sterling silver crosses. Crafted in fine sterling silver, the cross’s elegant design was inspired by a grill in early Romanesque style in Winchester Cathedral, Hampshire, England.

Established in 1824, Reed & Barton has earned a worldwide reputation for creating fine – quality sterling silver. The company’s finely crafted Christmas ornaments are cherished and collected the world over. The highest standards of design and craftsmanship are hallmarks of all products manufactured by Reed & Barton, foremost silversmiths for over 186 years.

Find this sterling silver ornament

AND

other sterling silver ornaments on our website at Beverly Bremer Silver Shop

1st Day of Christmas Partridge Ornament by Hand and Hammer

August 6, 2010

Partridge and Pear Ornament

Sterling Silver Partridge and Pear Ornament

Sterling Silver Partridge and Pear Ornament

Length is 2 1/2 inches, weight is 0.50 troy ounces. This sterling silver collectible ornament is part of a collection of ornaments inspired by the Twelve Days of Christmas, created exclusively by Hand & Hammer Silversmiths. In the hands of their skilled craftsmen, the precious commodity of sterling silver becomes a treasured heirloom for the Christmas Tree.

 The stylish partridge and pear evokes one of the best-loved holiday carols. This sterling silver collectible ornament, designed by Chip deMatteo and Greg Villalobos, has a medieval style, harkening back to the period in which the carol was written.

 Find this

 Sterling Silver Ornament (click here)

 and other sterling silver ornaments on our website at

 Beverly Bremer Silver Shop (click here)

 

Sterling Silver Julep Cup

April 27, 2010

The Sterling Silver Julep Cup

In the South, there is a time-honored tradition that is best enjoyed under the very wide brim of an elaborately decorated hat: The Kentucky Derby. As you watch the majestic thoroughbreds race round the track, there is no better way to cool yourself off than with a refreshing Mint Julep, better yet served in a sterling silver julep cup. The sweet bite of bourbon mixed with the fresh mint and all served ice cold is the perfect palate quencher to tackle that deep south heat. As the official libation of the Derby, one must familiarize themselves with its sweet southern charms. That being said, the following recipe has been provided. See the full recipe at the bottom of the page.

Early American silver smiths and Kentucky natives, Asa Blanchard and William and Archibald Cooper are responsible for the appearance of the julep cup design we use today. The opulence of a sterling silver julep cup goes beyond the racetrack for southern residents. We raise our cups high in celebration of our roots and traditions. Sterling silver adds that extra extravagance to the experience and is the perfect vessel for a chilled mint julep. Whether you are watching from the benches of Churchill Downs, waving your winning ticket in the air, or sitting in the air conditioned confines of your parlor, make sure you have a Mint Julep waiting. Sit back, relax and take a sip of a little southern heritage.

Above are two basic forms that the sterling silver julep takes, one with a banded border(figure 1) and the other with a beaded boarder (figure 2). Click on either and look at our selection of over 94 sterling silver juleps in 14 different forms.

 

The Perfect Mint Julep

Yields 1

  • 3 ounces Kentucky bourbon
  • Mint leaves
  • 2 tablespoons mint simple syrup, recipe follows

Crush a few mint leaves in the bottom of a sterling silver julep cup. Add 2 tablespoons of syrup and muddle ingredients together to release oils from mint. Then fill the julep with crushed ice. Add bourbon and stir until the julep is frosted. Top with more crushed ice. To serve, garnish with a fresh sprig of mint.

Mint Syrup:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 bunch fresh mint sprigs

In a medium saucepan, combine sugar and water. Boil for 5 minutes, without stirring.

Pour over a handful of mint and gently crush the mint with a spoon. Refrigerate syrup mixture overnight in a jar with a lid. Remove mint leaves and keep refrigerated. In the refrigerator, the mix will be good for several weeks.

Resource: Jay Dickerson, EQ at The Party Source

Sterling Silver Pea Spoon

March 19, 2010

The Sterling Silver Pea Server

Please Pass the Peas

The green pea is synonymous with the thawing of winter, transistioning into a natural beautifying of our days. Fresh produce at the local markets coupled with times of celebration bring out the host in us all. Whether at a garden party or ar a formal dinner toasting two, the presence of sterling silver always makes a postive impression.

Peas are becoming more popular in dishes for their diversity, whether they be pureed into dips for crostini or simply steamed. A little known fact about early 19th century cuisine: that after 30 mintues of boiling, the peas were skimmed out for serving. We have a vast amount of sterling silver pieces that make the serving of your sides easier, and the presentation the highlight of any meal.

Eating in green peas in the late 18th to early 19th centuries, sterling silver forks commonly used in England and the American colonies had only two or three tines and knife blades were wide and rounded in order to eat the peas from. As the saying goes:

“I always eat my peas with honey;

I’ve done it all my life.

They do taste kind of funny

but It keeps them on my knife.”

Anonymous

With the simplicity of such a small super food, it’s important that they are displayed in just the right dish; a beautiful sterling silver bowl with detail that brings the perfect amount of opulence to any table. In fact, peas of many varieties were planted with more frequency, and were allocated far more space in the kitchen garden at Monticello, than any other single vegetable. Peter J. Hatch, Director of Garden & Grounds at Monticello, writing in Dining at Monticello, states, “according to family accounts, every spring Jefferson competed with local gentlemen gardeners to bring the first pea to the table.”

We pride ourselves in the diversity of our sterling silver bowls, plates, tea sets and many serving pieces because of the stories of these famous historical figures. Like Jefferson, we are all looking for that passion to bring great food to our tables. For if we did not value our health and wealth, we would not have our greens or our silver! With that, it is no doubt that this spring, a sterling silver serving piece would be the perfect accompaniment to any side dish. Please pass the peas!

Visit our website to see the great diversity of second hand sterling silver servers.

Beverly Bremer Silver Shop

A Brief History of Sterling Silver

March 9, 2010

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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