Michael Weller Silver Seminar: American Flatware - A Cornucopia of Choices: American Patterned Flatware, 1842-1876
D. Albert Soeffing, Philadelphia, PA
By the middle of the 19th century, there was an explosion of affordable silver for the middle class, as well as forms and patterns of American silver that took on distinctively American forms and designs. Victorian Americans made more silverware, extraordinarily ornamented silverware, with state-of-the-art technology and far less labor.
Much of the reason for this great variety was due to the invention of die-rollers by New York silversmith William Gale, who patented the machinery on December 7, 1826. Passage of a protective tariff in 1842 effectively excluded Europeans from the American silverware market. American novelty soon expanded the number of forms and patterns. At least six to seven hundred different die-struck patterns were available in the marketplace, as well as elaborate engine-turning and engraving.
The Civil War only temporarily diminished the sale of luxury goods, particularly silverware. The war generated enormous wealth and silverware that flew off the merchants’ shelves and onto the dining tables of American consumers. The proliferation of silver on American tables was also due, in part, to the greatly expanded affordability of silver flowing from the Comstock Lode (1859-1874).
Mr. Soeffing will take us on a visual journey of the forms, and especially the many interesting ornamental patterns, that were introduced during the 19th century. His original research on important silversmiths and silverware manufacturers will aid in stamping out a history of this important American industry.
Mr. Soeffing earned a bachelor’s degree from St. John Fisher College in Rochester, NY and a master’s degree in history from Fordham University. Our speaker was a Forman Fellowship Scholar at the Winterthur Museum in 1991. He lectured on identification and appraisal of fine and antique silver at the Long Island University, C.W. Post Campus (1994-2003) and currently is an adjunct assistant professor for New York University’s appraisal studies program. Donald Soeffing founded the New York Silver Society and has been its president from 1992-1996 and president emeritus from 1997-present.
Mr. Soeffing’s publications include “Silver Medallion Flatware” (1988), contributions to “Silver in America: A Century of Splendor, 1840-1940” (1994) and “The History of the Origins, Design and Promotion of Tiffany & Co. Hollowware” (1999). He has also contributed many articles to Silver Magazine and The Magazine Antiques.