Antique Art Nouveau Sterling Silver

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”)

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]

Modernism

Modernism

This archived overview produced by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts offers thumbnail sketches of the design moveme… [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    

Vintage Cini Sterling Silver Brooch Art Nouveau Cherub & Dolphin No Reserve!"vintage Sterling Silver & Enamel Pendant Art-nouveau" Very PrettyRare W.kerr & Co. Sterling Silver Art Nouveau C.1900 Chocolate Pot No Reserve NrFine Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Guilloche Enamel Locket Pill Box Pendant SignedLarge Vintage Cini Sterling Silver Brooch Art Nouveau Cherubs & Harps No ReserveSuperb Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Erotic Cane Walking Stick Handle Naked Lady"vintage Sterling Silver & Enamel Scarab Beetle Pendant Art-nouveau" Very PrettySterling Silver - Georg Jensen Denmark #36 Art Nouveau Pin 4.2g - Brooch Ds3281Heintz Sterling On Bronze Iris Vase No 3627 Art Nouveau Marked 11.5" HighAntique Vintage German Art Nouveau Drgm Sterling Silver Charm Bracelet Old C1910Superb C1890 George W. Shiebler Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Snuff Box Pill CaseBeautful C1890 American Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Vanity Hand Mirror & Brushes "vintage Sterling Silver & Enamel Pendant Art-nouveau" BeautifulAntique Art Nouveau Chatelaine Sterling & Crystal Perfume Scent Bottle W/ CupidsNouveau .30ctw H-si2 Genuine Diamond Sterling Silver Filigree Ring 4g Size 7Pair Antique .925 Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Triple Candlesticks, Hallmarked NrStunning 1907 Art Nouveau English Sterling Silver & Cut Glass Vanity Powder JarSterling Silver - Antique Art Nouveau #122 Cuff 37g - Bracelet (6") Cz385Sterling Silver - Signed Art Nouveau Cuff 20.5g - Bracelet (6.5") Dt4331Rare C1900 Art Nouveau Alvin Sterling Silver Overlay Glass Perfume Scent BottleVtg Antique Arts & Crafts Nouveau Sterling Silver Blister Pearl Pendant NecklaceAntique Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Iris Flower Belt BuckleVintage Antique Art Nouveau Micro Beaded Purse Sterling Handle Large 8 3/4 X 7 Large Genuine English Antique Art Nouveau 1909 Solid Sterling Silver Photo FrameVintage Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Match SafeVintage 108.5 G Sterling Silver Modern Studio Wide Cuff Bracelet Swirl NouveauAn Exquisite Late Last Century Art Nouveau Design Sterling Silver Perfume BottleLarge Old Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Kirk &son Repousse Buckle Belt Dress PurseFine Large Genuine Antique Art Nouveau Ch1905 Solid Sterling Silver Photo FrameFab Rare English Antique Art Nouveau 1902 Solid Sterling Silver Albert Fob MedalDaffodils ~ Sterling Silver Dresser Vanity Jar Box Nouveau Antique VictorianAntique Wallace Sterling Tea Strainer Over The Cup-art Nouveau Flower DesignRare Richard Dimes Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Creamer Sugar Basket Rare No RsvAuthentic Pandora Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Lace Clips (2)Sterling Silver - Antique Art Nouveau 23.7g - Napkin Ring Cz615Fabulous Japanese Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Salt & Pepper Shaker Set LotusMassive Antique Sterling Silver Amber German Hallmark Signed Art Nouveau Ring Butterscotch Antique Amber Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Pendant VintageStunning Antique Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Photo Locket Pendant Webster Co 1896 Victorian English Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Swirl Repousse Mustard PotVintage R. Wallace & Sons Sterling Silver Vanity Set Art Nouveau Brush MirrorVintage Danecraft Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Floral BraceletNouveau .40ctw Old Cut Genuine Diamond Sterling Silver Dinner Ring 6g Size 7(damaged) Sterling Silver - Birks Art Nouveau Bangle 35g - Bracelet (6.5") Bz421Antique 1930s Heart European Sterling Silver Necklace Estate Nouveau Deco SwissVintage Art Nouveau Style Sterling Silver Cini Cupid Angel Cherub Pin Brooch6ct Green Emerald Solid Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Floral Filigree Ring Size 97ct Oval Cut Blue Aquamarine Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Filigree Ring Size 8Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Style Photo Frame: MaidenArt Nouveau Arts & Crafts Sterling Silver Vermeil Coral Stone Vintage Ring Sz 6Early Art Nouveau Danecraft Pin Enhancer Clip Pendant Sterling Silver NrSterling Silver ~ Art Nouveau Scent / Perfume BottleArt Nouveau Style Brooch In Sterling Silver - Marked For Carrick Jewellers 925Vintage Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Style PendantVtg Art Deco / Nouveau Sterling Silver Clear & Green Rhinestone Bangle Bracelet Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Cane Handle Large Parasol Handle Antique FrenchAuthentic Pandora Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Lace ClipOld Art Nouveau Hallmarked Signed Sterling Silver Enamel Floral Pendant NecklaceWebster & Co. Sterling Silver Handled Basket Tray Art Nouveau No Reserve 11oz2ct Genuine Aquamarine & Opal 925 Solid Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Ring Sz 7