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    

Superb Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Desktop Photo Picture Frame Antique 1909Antique Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Roses Embroidery Scissors * Circa 1900Antique Amazing,french Micro Beaded Purse Art Nouveau Patterns Sterling SilverOriginal Art Nouveau Sterling Silver & Enamel Charles Horner BroochTiffany Sterling Silver Pitcher C1902 Art Nouveau ExcSterling Silver Bowl Antique Gorham 6 Oz Art Nouveau Pierced Basket Serving DishAntique Vintage Jewellery Hallmarked 925 Silver Art Nouveau Amber BroochArt Nouveau Style Solid Sterling Silver Brooch-pendant Chene D Glas Pat CheneyAntique J.a.henckels 4 Blade Sterling Pocket Knife -art Nouveau- Old LogoFabulous English Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Pen Tray 1904 Antique Card DishSet 12 Vintage Webster Sterling Silver Overlay Glass Art Nouveau Coasters Vtg Sajen Sterling Silver Moonstone Nouveau Optic Blue Goddess Necklace PendantAntique Art Nouveau Ja&s John Atkins & Sons Sterling Silver Enamel Pendant C1915Vtg Sajen Sterling Silver Ruby Pearl Amethyst Peridot Nouveau Goddess NecklaceLarge Art Nouveau Fairy Necklace Marcasite Blue Yellow Green Enamel 925 SilverSterling Silver 925 Art Nouveau Style Foliage Swirl Size 9 Sewing Thimble VtgDecanter W Heavy Sterling Silver Overlay In Wild Art Nouveau Floral PatternMarvelous Millefiori Murano Glass Art Nouveau Style Ring Sterling Silver 9255ct Australian Opal 925 Solid Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Filigree Ring Sz 7Art Nouveau Sterling Silver 3/4ctw H-i Genuine Diamond Huggie Hoop Earrings 4.5g6 Pc Antique Vanity Set Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Repousse 1903 Unger BrothersLiberty Art Nouveau Sterling & Carnelian Necklace Vintage Art Nouveau Style Nuvo Sterling Silver Floral Pendant Necklace DesignerArt Nouveau Stunning Heavy Pair Solid Sterling Silver Vases,946g,r.b&m,birm 1905Fine Old Antique Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Etruscan Flapper Necklace Vintage~art Nouveau~sterling~silver~ornate "floral" Design~bangle~bracelet~10.5~Antique Art Nouveau Birmingham Assay Office Hm 1905 Sterling Silver ThimbleAntique Marked Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Match Safe Vesta The Very Best925 Mark Big Amber Art Nouveau Style Sterling Silver PendantAntique Art Nouveau Gorham Sterling Silver Vanity Hand Mirror Buttercup Rose 317Antique Aesthetic Art Nouveau Exotic Flower Vine Sterling Silver Napkin RingArt Nouveau Style Butterfly Rose Quartz Love Stone Pendant 925 Sterling Silver C. 1920's Art Nouveau Marcasite Sterling Silver Necklace ~vintage~antique~art Nouveau~chinese~sterling Silver~carved~amethyst~pin~brooch~Fabulous Antique Art Nouveau Sterling Silver & Cut Glass Powder BoxEstate Find ...vintage Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Pansy Flower BangleArt Nouveau Style Design Pill Box Trinket Holder Chatelaine Sterling 16.4gArt Deco Nouveau Sterling Silver Jelly Opal Glass Dragons Breath Brooch PinDanecraft Sterling Silver Cuff Bracelet Dragon Art Nouveau DesignArt Nouveau Woman Sterling Silver Handled Letter Opener2 Antique Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Angel Decorated Trinket Or Pin Trays 19048ct Blue Sapphire 925 Solid Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Filigree Ring Sz 6Vintage Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Woman Ladies Stick PinStunning Art Nouveau Style White Gilson Opal Ring Sterling Silver 925Pretty Leaf Art Nouveau Inspired Green Amber Ring Sterling Silver 925Art Nouveau Sterling Glass Flask Cover W/ Serpent Heads & Poppies, As FoundAntique Victorian Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Lady Brooch PinSuperb Vintage Art Nouveau Ornate Sterling Silver & Opal RingOrnate Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Spoon - State Capital, Springfield, IllinoisOld Art Nouveau Sterling 925 Amber Glass Big Dinner Ring Adjustable F Vernon Vintage Antique Sterling Silver Art Nouveau French Hallmarks Necklace8ct Blue Sapphire 925 Solid Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Filigree Ring Sz 8Antique Victorian Art Nouveau Ornate Sterling F&b Germany Sewing ScissorsStunning Art Nouveau Style Blue Gilson Opal Ring 925 Sterling Silver3ct London Blue Topaz 925 Solid Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Filigree Ring Sz 8Heavy Sterling Silver Overlay Art Nouveau Trivet Plate Abp Cut Glass, 5 7/8"Antique Art Nouveau Powder Jar With Sterling Silver LidAntique 1881 Birmingham Art Nouveau Solid Sterling Silver .925 Decorative Ring 3ct Blue Sapphire 925 Solid Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Filigree Ring Sz 74ct Black Onyx & Pearl 925 Solid Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Filigree Ring Sz 8