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    

Fine Gorham Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Brandy Warmer Porringer Bowl Wine TasterVintage Sterling Silver & Enamel Pendant & Chain Art-nouveau Very PrettyAntique Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Overlay Crystal Glass Vanity Perfume BottleVintage Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Floral Baltic Honey Amber Link Necklace 925Large Sterling Silver Overlay Perfume Scent Bottle Antique Victorian NouveauLarge, Rare Sterling? Silver Lorgnette Opera Glasses Victorian Nouveau AntiqueFine Rare Antique Solid Top Art Nouveau 1910 Solid Sterling Silver Cigarette BoxArt Nouveau Sterling Silver Hand Mirror With Flower Decoration Birmingham 1906Antique Art Nouveau Tiffany Sterling Silver Large Hand Magnifying Glass VtgRare & Exquisite Solid Sterling Silver Aesthetic Art Nouveau Bowl Chester 1901Cherub ~ Sterling Silver Bookmark Letter Opener Nouveau Antique VictorianVintage Art Deco Nouveau Sterling Silver & 14k Gold Symmetalic Leaf NecklaceAntique Victorian Art Nouveau Photo Locket Sterling Silver 9ct Gold Brooch Pin Large Antique Art Nouveau Bso Sterling Silver Lily Pad Flower Bowl ... NrLarge Beautiful Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Overlay Perfume Scent BottleAntique Aesthetic Nouveau Alvin Sterling Silver Figural Daisy Demitasse SpoonVintage Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Filigree Amber Wire EarringsAuthentic Pandora Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Lace ClipAntique Art Nouveau Art Deco Sterling Silver Wingback Type Cufflinks No StoneRare ~ Figural Lady ~ Sterling Silver Button ~ Nouveau Victorian Antique Vintage Large 4" Sterling Silver Floral Ornate Art Nouveau Brooch Pin JewleryBeautiful Art Nouveau Antique Sterling Silver & Aquamarine Stone Brooch - 3 Cm800 Silver Art Nouveau German Sterling Cherub Design Silver Box Nr Antique Nouveau Floral Sterling Silver Oval Picture Photo Frame Wall Table EaselAuthentic Pandora Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Lace Clips (2)Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Epergne With Cobalt Glass Vase James Deakin 1907Pr Antique Victorian Arts Crafts Nouveau Gorham Sterling Silver Demitasse SpoonsArt Nouveau Sterling Silver Heart Stone Pin Brooch Charles Horner Chester Hm 3.9Vintage Onyx Inlay Marcasite Oval Sterling Silver Ring Estate Art Deco NouveauSterling Silver Enamel Art Nouveau Design Pendants, Earrings & Brooch/pin.Antique Sterling Locket Floral Picture Art Nouveau Heintz Bronze And Sterling Silver - Art Nouveau Style - Circa 1912 - Dish10ct Ruby 925 Solid Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Filigree Ring Sz 6Genuine Emerald 925 Solid Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Filigree Ring Sz 6Sterling Silver Blue & Pink Fire Opal White Topaz ? Quartz ? Art Nouveau ? RingVintage Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Red Milk Glass Vase19thc Antique Victorian Art Nouveau Gorham Sterling Silver Enamel Flowers SpoonsSmall Antique Cut Glass Art Nouveau Dresser Jar Sterling Silver Cover Whiting Antique Art Nouveau Kielce Poland Lombard .750 Sterling Silver Candlesticks, NrArt Nouveau Daffodil Sterling Gorham Bon Bon W/ Lovely Piercing In Lobed BowlVintage Baltic Butterscotch Sterling Silver 900 Ring Old Size 8.5 Art Nouveau William B. Kerr Sterling Silver Ladies Art Nouveau Watch Pin Antique Nouveau Sterling Coral Rosary German Repousse Silver Cherub Box VintageAntique Victorian Art Nouveau Webster Sterling Silver Cross Bible BookmarkSterling Art Nouveau Match Safe William B Kerr & Company 1880-1927...R&b Art Nouveau Animals Sterling Baby Spoon & Fork NewStunning Art Nouveau Solid Sterling Silver Collar Scent Perfume BottleAntique Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Egg Yolk Amber Brooch White Amber InclusionsAntique 3 Pc 1917 Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Grooming Vanity Set W.g. Sother CoAntique Art Nouveau Maiden Repousse Sterling Lid Cut Glass Powder Dresser Jar$700 Art Nouveau .25ctw G-i1 Genuine Diamond Sterling Silver Heart Pendant 4.4gExcellent Art Nouveau Antique Sterling Silver Scenic Pocket Knife"lake",c.1900Vintage Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Onyx And Marcasite Rare Post EarringsBeautiful Art Nouveau Woman Button ~ Sterling & Matte Enamel ~ 1905 HallmarksVintage Art Deco Nouveau Sterling Silver & Onyx With Clear Stone Pin Brooch RareAntique Sterling Silver Filigree Art Nouveau ? Art Deco ? Round Locket Pendant Rare Antique ,nouveau , Tiffany Sterling Walking Stick,cane .the Finest Ever4ct Genuine Citrine 925 Solid Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Filigree Ring Sz 7Huge 138g Vtg Sterling Silver Victorian Nouveau Signed Enamel Jewelry Lot Ne1625Vintage Art Deco Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Ring Green & Clear Rhinestone Glass