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 Hand Carved Lapis Lazuli & Sterling Art Nouveau Brooch *beautiful* Antique Vintage Victorian Art Nouveau Large Sterling Silver Photo Locket PendantBeautiful 1902 Art Nouveau Gorham Sterling Silver Floral Repousse Serving BowlAntique Vintage Victorian Art Nouveau Sterling Silver 9ct Gold Cross Brooch Pin Antique Whiting Sterling Lily Of The Valley Art Nouveau Candy Nut Almond BowlRare Antique Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Art Deco Mesh Purse – Ornate W/tasselArt Nouveau Garnet Sapphire Enamel Dragonfly Marcasite Brooch Pendant 925 Silver6 Antique 935 Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Fairy ButtonsAntique Rare Art Nouveau Solid Sterling Silver English Birmingham Snuff Box Georg Jensen 250 Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Deco Pin Brooch Figural Birds WheatC.1902 Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Vanity Mirror 'lady With Flowing Hair'Antique Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Pill Box Snuff Case 19th Cent Children SceneAlvin Sterling Silver 925 Art Nouveau Floral Scroll Candy Nut Almond Dish BowlAmazing Sterling Silver .925 Art Nouveau Goddess On A 10x Magnifier Eye LoopRare Antique Art Nouveau Unger Bros Gilt Sterling Silver Flower Lady LorgnetteAwesome Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Cigarette Case Fully Hallmarked Old 1903 Unger Brothers Sterling Silver Victorian Art Nouveau Brooch Pin Amazing Sterling Silver Beautiful Art Nouveau Lady On A 10x Magnifier Eye LoopEnglish Sterling Silver Napkin Ring Engraved W Or M. Art Nouveau From 1901Antique Sterling Silver Filigree Art Nouveau ? Art Deco ? Round Locket PendantPretty Vintage Art Deco Nouveau Sterling Silver Marcasites Pearl Pendant PatinaAntique Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Overlay Perfume Bottle Or Flask1901 Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Folding Fruit KnifeVintage Art Nouveau Butterfly Wing Pendant, Sterling Silver, T. Mott, EnglandAntique French Sterling Silver Pencil Pendant Telescope Gold Accents Art NouveauOld Art Deco Nouveau Sterling Silver Italian Italy Filigree Dangles NecklaceAntique Ornate Sterling Art Nouveau Floral Sewing Embroidery Scissors 15.9gSterling Silver - 3d Art Nouveau Puffy Heart 1.4g - Charm Pendant Se6031Estate Sterling Silver Pill Purse For Chatelaine Art Nouveau High Relief Nr 925Alvin Morning Glory Rare Sterling Silver Big Meat Fork Art Nouveau No ReserveWhiting Big Sterling Silver Lilly Meat Serving Fork 110 G's Art Nouveau No Resrv6.5ct Moonstone Solid Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Floral Filigree Ring Size 7Antique Nouveau Lot 28 Sterling Silver Salt Spoons Cupids Shells Bird's Nest +++Edwardian Marked Sterling Silver Brooch Pin Art Nouveau StyleArt Nouveau Kerr Sterling Silver Lady Flowing Lily Flower Hair Vanity BrushArt Nouveau Kerr Sterling Silver Lady Flowing Easter Lily Flower Hair BrushArt Nouveau Sterling Silver Repousse Sterling Silver Flower Crest Wax SealStunning Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Victorian Floral Sugar Spoon$639 Art Nouveau Old Cut H-i2 Genuine Diamond 925 Sterling Silver Ring 4g Sz9.75Gorgeous Vintage Estate Tested 925 Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Brooch!!! 1059bSterling Silver - Art Nouveau Scroll Bangle 10.2g - Bracelet (8") Rw7841Antique Victorian Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Sewing Scissors ~ Rw&s Germany Webster Sterling Silver On Glass Overlay. Art Nouveau Floral Trivet. 6 InchesArt Nouveau White Gilson Opal Flying Lady Necklace Pendant 925 Sterling SilverBaker Manchester Sterling Silver Poppy Serving Spoon Art Nouveau No Reserve RareWhiting Lilly Sterling Silver Big Serving Spoon No Reserve 105 Gram Art Nouveau5ct Australian Opal 925 Solid Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Filigree Ring Sz 7Australian Opal 925 Solid Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Filigree Heart EarringsAntique Victorian Crystal Talc Perfume Bottle Sterling Art Nouveau Crown Cap NrVintage Sterling Silver Nouveau Amethyst/peridot/garnet Earrings - No Reserve!Antique Art Nouveau English Sterling Silver Napkin Ring 29g Engraved Ornate Not7ct Oval *blue Aquamarine* Sterling Silver 925 Art Nouveau Filigree Ring Size 9Antique Alvin Studios Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Overlay-tall Green Glass VaseAntique Gorham Rare Nouveau Copper Teapot Kettle Applied Sterling Stand Burner Vintage Art Nouveau Bird Sterling Silver 925 Pin Brooch (33.6g)Beautiful Rare Antique Stylised Art Nouveau Solid Sterling Silver BoxArt Nouveau Old Orange Blossom By Alvin / Gorham Sterling Silver Cold Meat Fork3ct London Blue Topaz 925 Solid Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Filigree Ring Sz 8Antique Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Repousse Brooch By Wm,kerr3ct Blue Sapphire 925 Solid Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Filigree Ring Sz 6