In the 1880s and 1890s, a new style spread across Europe and the United States—Art Nouveau. Unlike the austere Art Deco that eventually supplanted it, Art Nouveau emphasized flowing lines and organic, asymmetric forms. Many Art Nouveau designs featured stylized naturalism, with floral patterns, dragonflies, snails, and women with long, flowing hair wearing sheer gowns.

Many silversmiths produced pieces in the Art Nouveau style, but its impact was not as substantial on silver production as a whole as later styles were, since Art Nouveau’s aesthetics and methods did not lend themselves to mass production. Indeed, some of the most elaborate pieces of Art Nouveau silver took more than 90 hours to manufacture.

Silversmiths working in the Art Nouveau style generally utilized two main techniques in tandem: repoussé and chasing. With repoussé, a silversmith shapes the silver by hammering it from the back. In the chasing process, he or she uses essentially the same process but on the front side of the silver. Together, these techniques mold the silver into its final shape without removing any of the actual metal.

Two of the main U.S. companies producing silverware in the Art Nouveau style were Gorham & Co. of Providence, Rhode Island, and Tiffany & Co. of New York. Both companies were highly influenced by Asian (especially Japanese) aesthetics.

One of Gorham’s most exquisite products was its martelé line of sterling silverware, which featured fluid, floral designs. Each piece of martelé was handmade, whether it was a vase, letter opener, candlestick, mug, or bowl.

Unlike British companies, American silversmiths were not held to the sterling hallmark standards of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, which even today mandates with the power of British law that sterling silver be 92.5 percent pure silver and 7.5 percent copper and other trace elements.

Thus, Tiffany & Co. could produce an array of Art Nouveau-style products, like ornate vases and teapots, marked as “sterling silver and other metals.” Despite the fact that these pieces did not technically meet the British standards for sterling silver, they often exhibited fine craftsmanship and have become valuable over the years. Gorham produced many pieces with a similar marking...

English Art Nouveau practitioners included Liberty & Co. and Omar Ramsden, whose output included bowls, belt buckles, candelabra, cigarette cases, jewelry, match holders, clocks, and centerpieces. Only the finest of these were hallmarked as sterling silver; those that were not often featured colored enameling for decorative effect.

Interestingly, the Art Nouveau period also saw the development and spread of the picture frame, since the 1880s witnessed the release of cameras intended for amateur photographers. Picture frames, however, generally had a low silver content.

Art Nouveau went out of style around the start of World War I, but patterns remained popular after the period itself ended, so maker’s marks and hallmarks give the collector the most reliable clues to a piece’s origin.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Modernism

Modernism

This archived overview produced by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts offers thumbnail sketches of the design moveme… [read review or visit site]

Chicago Silver

Chicago Silver

Paul Somerson's incredible reference on handwrought metalwork from the American Arts and Crafts movement of the ear… [read review or visit site]

Silver Marks Encyclopedia

Silver Marks Encyclopedia

An extensive reference guide to silver marks, hallmarks, trademarks and maker's marks found on antique and vintage … [read review or visit site]

Silver at the Victoria and Albert

Silver at the Victoria and Albert

This is a great reference site on silver, courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum. You can view silver items acc… [read review or visit site]

The Gilbert Collection

The Gilbert Collection

The late Sir Arthur Gilbert's collection of European silver, gold, enamel, and other items is now housed at the Vic… [read review or visit site]

Delight in Design: Indian Silver for the Raj

Delight in Design: Indian Silver for the Raj

“Delight in Design: Indian Silver for the Raj” was the title of a 2008 exhibition at Columbia University’s Mi… [read review or visit site]

TheStieffCompany.com

TheStieffCompany.com

Scott Perkins is an enthusiastic evangelist for The Stieff Company, a significant Baltimore silversmith and maker o… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vtg Art Nouveau Renaissance Revival 800 Silver Amethyst Glass Dangle NecklaceStunnin Austrian Loetz Titania Art Nouveau Glass Vase La Pierre Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Antique French Silver Vesta Case Matchsafe Smoking Match Box IrisBeautiful Vintage Art Nouveau Solid Silver Carved Coral Rose Jewellery BraceletFabulous Art Nouveau Silver Enamel Pendant Sydney & Co Birmingham 1908Antique Vintage Victorian Silver Art Nouveau Enamel Lourdes Locket Brooch PinPretty Wmf German Silver & Cut Glass Miniature Bud Vase Art Nouveau C1900sGorham Repousse~sterling Silver 8 Day Travel Clock & Dresser Jar~antique NouveauStunning Art Nouveau Silver And Glass Scent/perfume Bottle,hallmarked.Solid Sterling Silver Vintage Art Nouveau Lapis Lazuli Stone Drop EarringsRare Tiny Sterling Silver Crystal Chatelaine Perfume Bottle Victorian Nouveau Solid Sterling Silver Antique Vintage Art Nouveau Amethyst Thistle Pin BroochWonderful Art Nouveau Silver Enamel Pendant Charles Horner 1909Antique Vintage Victorian Art Nouveau Large Silver Photo Locket Fob Pendant Superb ~ Silver Plated ~ Art Nouveau Style ~ Spirit Kettle On Stand ~ C1890Gilded Silver Art Nouveau Antique Writing Set Dip Pen Seal Letter Opener DesktopSterling Silver Art Nouveau Guilloche Enamel Cattail & Lotus Brooch Pin 8.3gRussian Silver Nut Cracker Antique Victorian Art Nouveau Nutcrackers & Pick Vtg Nouveau Chic Folding Reading Magnefying Glasses Sterling SilverFigural Lady Silver Plate Dresser Button Hook ~antique Nouveau VictorianFine Art Nouveau Silver & Enamel Brooch Stainton Brothers 1909Art Nouveau Silver Plated Small Decanter For Liqueur Oil Wmf Jugendstil 1900sKrementz Art Nouveau Floral Motif Sterling Silver Lorgnette Pendant,eyeglassesAntique Art Nouveau Deco Egyptian Revival Sterling Silver Enamel Bird Brooch PinVintage Jewellery Signed Masj Art Nouveau Poppy Silver Scenes Pendant NecklaceAntique Vintage Victorian Art Nouveau Silver Aei Love Token Rare Brooch Pin Old Solid Silver Vintage Art Nouveau Style Plique A Jour Marcasite Pendant BroochAntique Silver Enamel Art Nouveau Bangle Bracelet James Fenton 1909 Liberty?Antique Victorian Art Nouveau Deco Silver Enamel Large Photo Locket Fob PendantVintage Silver & Plique-à-jour Art Nouveau Lady Brooch Pendant Cultured Pearl(z2Antique Vintage Victorian Art Nouveau Large Silver Photo Locket Fob Pendant HugeVintage Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Spool Case * American * Circa 1980sAntique Art Nouveau Silver Butterfly Brooch Chester 1902 Arthur Johnson Smith Beautiful Antique Jugendstil Wmf Style Art Nouveau Silver Plated Vase C.1900Sterling Silver Hip Wine Flask Art Nouveau Grape Vines Overlay Over GlassRare Antique Sterling Silver 925 Plata Mexico Mexican Teapot Art NouveauGood Large ~ Art Nouveau ~ Silver Plate & Glass ~ Cake / Fruit Basket ~ C1900Fine Antique Silver Art Nouveau Maiden Buttons Birmingham 1902 Joseph GlosterBig Vtg Victorian Nouveau Deco Gf Sterling Carved Bakelite Cameo Jewelry LotLady ~ Sterling Silver Bonnet Brush Antique Victorian Art NouveauEdwardian Art Nouveau Silver Pendant Vesta Case / Match Safe - Birmingham 1902Dolphin Feet~800? Silver Salt Dip Cellar & Blue Glass Liner~antique Art Nouveau2 X Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Buttons. Hallmark 1901, Maker 'r & W'.Sterling Silver R&sd Enamel Bug/insect Art Nouveau Design Brooch/pinAntique Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Sewing Scissors/ Lady Sexy Gown. No Reserve1910 Art Nouveau Chester Silver 3 Piece Beautiful Bachelor Tea Service 637g Italian 800 Sterling Silver Lipstick Holder Mirror Nouveau Antique VictorianAntique Hat Pin Lot : Sterling Silver Art NouveauRepair Antique Victorian Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Hat Pin Hatpin Marked 's'Art Nouveau Antique Silver Pl Angel Cherub Face Desktop Seal Letter Document Stunning Antique Minton Art Nouveau Silver Overlay Cabinet Cup & Saucer C1900Antique Art Nouveau Gothic Sterling Silver Mirror & Brush Floral Bird Mans FaceLot Of 23 Nouveau Deco Jewelry Garnet Glass Czech Sterling Enamel Marcasite Art Nouveau Silver Button Maker Nathan & Hayes ChesterAntique Victorian Art Nouveau Sterling Silver ? Clothes Or Shoe BrushCaldwell Sterling Silver Overlay Art Nouveau Art Glass Vase By, & Loetz, TiffanyA Sterling Silver Overlay Art Nouveau Art Glass Vase, Tiffany, Loetz, QuezalAntique Silver Art Nouveau Walking Stick / Cane - Bamboo ShaftMagnificent 1902 Huge 14" Fine Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Bowl 1,220 Gr London Art Nouveau Marriage Silver Rare 1895 Medal By Louis-oscar Roty In Box