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The Story of Sterling: 19th-Century Silver Patterns

Chrysanthemum, English King, Fairfax, Chantilly. Elegant, luxurious names given to some of the most pioneering designs in craft: silver patterns.

chrysanthemum entree


A pair of Tiffany & Co. sterling silver entrée dishes crafted in the Chrysanthemum pattern.


 The creation of a well-designed pattern is the work of an artist. Different decorative patterns can immediately suggest the personality of the silver piece and assert its value and context. More than just simple decoration, silver patterns hold a place of unforgettable beauty. Coffee poured from a slender shining Chrysanthemum pot, and a carving knife graced with the elegant, mythological forms of the Tiffany Olympian pattern become active participants in the dining occasion. Conversation pieces all on their own, the different patterns and styles of silver are a not not only a testament to the innate artistry of silversmiths, but windows into the fascinating history of sterling silver.

29-2247_4The Japan-inspired motif features a distinguishing hand-hammered finish and applied naturalistic decorations

Of all the periods in history, the 19th Victorian era is comprised of the most revolutionary and pioneering efforts in the silver arts. While the 18th century welcomed hints of opulence and luxurious items into the homes of aristocracy and the upper class, the mid-nineteenth century saw lavishness in full bloom, translating into intricate silver patterns in undeniably spectacular varieties.


This period ruled as the one of the most triumphal epochs as peace, prosperity, and most importantly, wealth reigned as an entirely new way of living and socializing. With this privilege of wealth came the strong desire for things that would best reflect it and a desire was formed to dine in complete and utter elegance. The new, sumptuous tastes were on full display and extensive silver pieces for the home and dining room served as visual affirmation of economic prosperity and affluence. The prestigious jewelry and silver firm, Tiffany & Co., recognized the need for ornate dining pieces and immediately clamored at this opportunity to design different patterns, like their iconic Chrysanthemum, to grace silver pieces that would match the opulence of the dining occasion. As one of the most enduring patterns to date, the Chrysanthemum pattern is an excellent example of the exuberance of this period. Silver entrée dishes, for example, that bear this pattern are crafted with motifs of opulent foliate and intricate, elegant scrolls. Other patterns, like their Japanese pattern that featured applied décor of organic, naturalistic forms, also put lavishness on full display. Now, nearly every surface of a silver piece was engraved and ornamented.

A sterling silver plate in the Francis I pattern by Reed and Barton
A sterling silver plate in the Francis I pattern by Reed and Barton
Widely considered the firm's finest, the Francis I pattern by Reed and Barton's is comprised rococo-style fruits and flowers.



Tiffany & Co. was not the only one to see success and desire from their sumptuous silver pieces. As the social calendars of the elite continuing to fill with evening gatherings and economic prosperity to continually rise, other silver firms, like Reed and Barton, also crafted extravagant silver pieces. Their quintessential Francis I pattern, depicting different intricate fruit clusters, is a dazzling sight of artistic talent and abundance. Used for vegetable bowls, compotes, and even sandwich trays, the Francis I pattern reigns as one of the most highly collectible patterns to date. Named for the Renaissance Duke, Francis of Angouleme, the Francis I pattern reflects dazzling height of architecture during this fascinating monarch’s reign.


In 1863, yet another powerhouse silver firm began designing opulent silver pieces. Gorham Silver, comprised of some of the most talented American silversmiths, introduced a new type of hand-wrought silver that would take the silver world by storm. Their Martele pattern, that followed the curvilinear and naturalistic qualities of the Art Nouveau movement, became the companies crowning achievement. Meaning “to hammer” in French, this pattern was entirely hand crafted and featured elegant, elongated handles, slender edges, and graceful proportions.


Whether stately or extremely decorated, all patterned silver inlay pieces possess a balance and scale that makes them not only comfortable to use, but attractive. Establishing rich silver style traditions that still prevail and exist today, the talent of Gorham, Tiffany & Co., and period styles continue to be an enduring force in the silver world today, inspiring generations of artistic achievement.


Interested to learn more about the profound world of antique silver? Read more to understand more about the important role of silver in the dining room. Shop our collection sterling silver antiques for sale to find the perfect acquisition for your collection.


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