19th-Century Fine Dining Symbolized by Tiffany Flatware

Victorian silver flatware has long been appreciated for their elaborate patterns and exquisite craftsmanship. It is doubtful that the vogue for a utensil for each category of food will make a comeback, but these days the many collectors searching out the various flatware patterns of from that time.

A Tiffany & Co. sterling silvers flatware place setting in the Vine pattern

A Tiffany & Co. sterling silvers flatware place setting in the Vine pattern

Upper class dining in the Victorian era was a complex ritual. The result was a multiplicity of implements designated for eating and serving specific foods. For instance, there were petit fours servers, caviar forks, sawback orange knives, to mention a few. To the rescue came Charles Lewis Tiffany, silversmith and jeweler. Between 1869 and 1905 which was the heyday of Tiffany & Co.’s flatware production the firm introduced 23 full-line patterns with as many as 40 different pieces for individual use and 60 serving pieces in each. Retired cardiologist Dr. William P. Hood who is a Tiffany silver flatware collector, has documented many previously unknown pieces and patterns in his book, “Tiffany Silver Flatware 1845-1905; When Dining Was an Art,” (1999),written with Roslyn Berlin, who has been a Tiffany dealer for more than 35 years, and Edward Wawrynek, a former Tiffany vice president.

As Dr. Hood points out, by the late 19th century, industrial magnates and the middle class striving to keep up with the Jones accumulated vast fortunes. “The formal dinner party was the perfect opportunity for sophisticated hosts and hostesses to showcase their status and refinement with an abundance of elegant food and opulent table appointment.”

Vine pattern uncheon knives in the daisy motif

Vine pattern luncheon knives in the daisy motif

One of the finest and most unique of the Tiffany silver flatware collection is the Vine pattern, a Japanesque line that shows off quite nicely Tiffany & Co’s amazing design and craftsmanship. The Vine pattern, designed during the early 1870s under Tiffany’s chief designer Edward C. Moore’s direction, is also known as “Fruits and Flowers.” It features 13 different motifs of fruit, vegetable and flower designs: daisy, gourd, grapevine, iris, morning glory, pansy, peapod, pomegranate, raspberry, squash, tomato vine, wild rose and wheat.

According to Hood, the Vine pattern was a smash at the height of America’s craving for Japanese art when it was introduced, but its popularity waned in the last decades of the 19th century. By the early 20th-century, only a few pieces still could be acquired on special order from the firm. The dies were destroyed in 1934 when pattern was discontinued.

Vine pattern asparagus/sandwich server

Vine pattern asparagus/sandwich server

Vine pattern flatware remains scarce and extremely expensive, with pieces in the peapod, daisy and wheat design being the rarest. Only a few boxed sets, mostly incomplete, have been sold in the last 30 years. “Assembling a complete set, piece by piece, may take from a generation to a lifetime, but to the passionate collector the wait will have been worth it,” Hood wrote.
For many collectors of Tiffany place settings, the problem has been in identifying patterns and pieces, making completion of a set difficult. Nineteenth and twentieth century Tiffany catalogs are scarce. They never illustrated the patterns and didn’t show which pieces were offered in each pattern.

CAUTION: Hood warns that fake Tiffany flatware is extremely rare but does occur. “The few pieces I have seen have been recognized by the crudeness of their execution and non-standard markings.” Hood points out that exotic pieces are rare and expensive, but “the prices are usually justified by the artistry and craftsmanship as well as the rarity.” He also advises collectors to be on the lookout for pieces not covered or illustrated in his book. It is still possible to find pieces of old Tiffany flatware in the average antiques shop or show booth. The really good stuff comes up for auction at Sotheby’s or Christie’s in New York only once or twice a year.

Vine pattern cold meat fork in the pea pod motiff

Vine pattern cold meat fork in the pea pod motif

If you should come across a piece marked Tiffany & Co. along with another silver makers name or hallmark, such as Gorham, this shows Tiffany to be the retailer, not the maker.

Hood says if you are thinking about dining with your vintage flatware, go ahead. “Don’t limit your use to the original intent” Hood advises. “A terrapin fork serves just as well as a pastry fork and will make for interesting table conversation. A waffle knife is perfect for lasagna.”

Tiffany Saratoga chip server

Tiffany Saratoga chip server

Imagine serving a bowl of potato chips with a Tiffany Saratoga chip server! The servers originated in 1875. They weren’t listed in his books until the early 20th century. In the 1913 book they were listed as potato chip servers!

And flatware doesn’t have to sit in a drawer waiting for a special occasion to be brought out into the daylight. Because of the many techniques used in the different patterns, a grouping of dessert knives in Japonesque style could be mounted and framed. This particular style had varied applied figural designs, among them a beetle, fish in foliage, and turtle.

— by Anne Gilbert

Anne Gilbert has written several books about antiques and lives in Williamston, Mich.

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