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    

Hukin & Heath Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Sewing Scissors Antique EdwardianMargot De Taxco Vtg Mexico Mexican Sterling Silver Enamel Nouveau Necklace1930's Vtg Mexico Mexican Sterling Silver Repousse & Amethyst Nouveau NecklaceWebster Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Victorian Vesta Case Matchsafe Whiplash IvyArt Nouveau Marius Hammer Sterling Silver Filigree NecklaceOld Art& Crafts Nouveau Butterscotch Egg Yolk Amber Sterling Silver BraceletArt Nouveau Sterling Silver Enamel Napkin Ring Archibald Knox Cymric Liberty Charles Horner Sterling Silver And Enamel Art Nouveau Scarab Pendant Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Jewellery Trinket Storage Box Angels CherubsVintage 1950's Etched Italian Sterling Silver Zippo Lighter Case Art Nouveau NrExcellent Large Sterling Silver Ola Gorie Art Nouveau Style Brooch925 Silver & Enamel Art Nouveau Charles Horner Style Pendant & Earrings SetMargot De Taxco Vtg Mexico Mexican Sterling Silver Enamel Nouveau EarringsStunning Sterling Art Nouveau Silver Plique A Jour Marcasite Butterfly Brooch Excellent Boxed Sterling Silver Ola Gorie Art Nouveau Style Earrings.Repousse Floral ~ Sterling Silver Match Safe Box Vesta Antique Nouveau VictorianArt Nouveau Sterling Silver Enamel & Pearl Drop Wire Earrings C1910 Murrle Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Hallmarked Belt Buckle Chatelaine Chain London 1903Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Gold Enamel Buckle Archibald Knox Liberty & Co 1901Art Nouveau Signed F&b Turquoise Guilloche Enamel Bracelet Sterling Silver DecoSuperb C1900 Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Strawberry Repousse Serving Bowl DishPretty C1900 Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Floral Repousse Serving Bowl Candy DishStunning 925 Silver & Enamel Art Nouveau Style EarringsArt Nouveau Sterling Silver Filigree Pierced Moon Stone Set Real Pearl Drop 1905Theodore Starr Sterling Silver Dresser Vanity Pill Ring Box Nouveau VictorianAntique Art Nouveau Solid 925 Sterling Silver Cherub Angel Hand MirrorGood 925 Silver & Enamel Art Nouveau Style Pendant & ChainVintage Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Citrine? Gorgeous RingMarius Hammer 925 Silver & Enamel Brooch C1910 Art Nouveau Norway VintageOla Gorie Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Style NecklaceAntique Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Overlay Glass Perfume Bottle,lily,4",1913Sterling Art Nouveau Match Safe, Unger BrosVintage Kit Heath Sterling Silver & Aquamarine Art Nouveau Necklace Signed Kh94 David Andersen Sterling Silver & Blue Enamel Spoon - Art NouveauLarge Beautiful Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Overlay Perfume Scent BottleAntique Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Paste PendantAntique Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Match Safe Vesta Case Box Womans Head FloralSuperb Kerr Art Nouveau Chrysanthemums Sterling Silver Candy Nut Bowl DishVintage Art Nouveau Trinket/ash Tray Sterling Silver Marked 1447Antique Sterling Silver Rosary Bracelet Art Nouveau French Mother Pearl Vintage1930's Vtg Mexico Mexican Sterling Silver Repousse & Amethyst Nouveau Earrings Vintage Art Deco Nouveau Hand Done Sterling Silver Brooch Pin Lily ExquisiteAmerican Art Nouveau Sterling Silver 6 Piece Ladies Grooming Set Circa 1910Art Nouveau Sterling Guilloche Enamel Daisy Pin, Antique, Great Shape & Color!Antique Art Deco/nouveau Sterling Silver Souvenir Spoon Troy,n.y. Nude LadyBeautiful Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Hand Engraved Two Blade Pocket KnifeVintage Art Nouveau Rogers, Lunt & Bowlen Sterling Silver Money Clip, Monogram BBeautful C1900 Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Floral Repousse Pedestal Serving BowlArt Nouveau Sterling Silver Moon Face Bracelet Charm Or Pendant C1930s~vintage~"art Nouveau"~floral~sterling~silver~enamel~flower~design~hoop~earringsSuperb Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Belt & Buckle Leaves Flowers Samuel Levi 1904Exceptional 19thc Gorham Arts & Crafts Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Handled VaseAntique Art Nouveau 6 Ct. Golden Citrine & Sterling Silver Large Drop EarringsAntique Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Repouse Cut Glass Vanity Dressing Table JarAn Art Nouveau Antique Solid Sterling Silver Victorian Pierced Dish London 1896.Antique Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Trivet W/glass/6 Inch/maker's Mark/nice!Antique Art Nouveau Sterling Silver & Scottish Agate RingAntique Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Hfb Sgd Photo Locket Pendant Superb QualityArt Nouveau Sterling Sewing Scissors With LadiesFinest Mauser Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Candy Nut Bowl Dish Flower Dragonfly