Before the rulers of Ur, who lived 6,000 years ago, held silver utensils in their hands, they ate out of silver bowls, or so the remnants of silver holloware—and lack of silver flatware—found in their tombs would suggest. Silver flatware designed to bring whatever was in those ancient bowls to royal mouths came later—a container for one’s meal was the obvious first step.

Unearthed evidence also reveals that the ancient Greeks hammered silver into the shapes of bowls, as did the Etruscans, Egyptians, and Romans. But for most contemporary collectors of antique sterling silver bowls, such facts are little more than history lessons, since the pieces and fragments from those eras are the stuff of museums. More available are the European sterling silver pieces created from the 17th century to the present.

From the beginning, the techniques for hammering silver into shapes were similar from region to region. In sinking, a sheet of silver was hammered into a form, often carved from the stump of a tree. The silversmith would begin by hammering around the edge of the form, moving toward the center of the sheet slowly in concentric circles. Because of this, sunk bowls were usually thicker on the bottom than the sides, which helped stabilize ones with round bottoms.

Raising took the opposite approach, although it was more commonly used for deep objects such as pitchers and tea pots. Both techniques were followed by planishing, in which a wide, slightly rounded planishing hammer was painstakingly used to smooth the outside of the sunk or raised surface. Sometimes the honeycomb-like marks of the hammered were disguised by polishing and burnishing, although during the Arts and Crafts era, there was no attempt to hide the hand of the silversmith at all.

Decorative effects on silver bowls ranged from enameling and niello, which were used to add color to a piece, to engraving and bright-cutting, which was like engraving but was, despite its name, more like scratching the surface than cutting it.

Pricking produced almost pointillistic designs, chasing was favored by artists wishing to depict scenes and landscapes on their bowls, and repoussé was perhaps the most demanding technique of all—to create repoussé patterns on the outside of a bowl, the smith had to hammer his design into the piece from the inside.

Other examples of decoration include openwork effects, which were achieved by piercing a bowl with a punch, fine saw, or both to create lace-like patterns...

While these techniques were almost universal, the types of bowls produced varied widely. For example, brandy bowls, which had two horizontal handles projecting from their rims, were particular to 17th-century Holland—the brandy was sipped warm. A close cousin of the brandy bowl is the single-handled porringer, which was popular in the American colonies but was known as a bleeding bowl in England where it originated. Despite their grisly name, bleeding bowls were used to eat out of.

Punch bowls were perhaps more universal, but the bright-cut or engraved designs on their surfaces were not. Dutch punch bowls, for example, might feature images of tulips while English ones might be decorated with coats of arms featuring dragons and castles. A monteith was like an extremely fancy footed-and-handled punch bowl, whose rims were crowned with excessively scalloped and decorated crowns. These remarkable bowls were filled with ice and used to cool glasses. Later examples had removable crowns so the bowls beneath them could be used for, you guessed it, punch.

Finally there were bowls for silver tea services. Of course these included a sugar bowl, whose contents were often dropped into a teacup using a pair of sterling silver sugar tongs. In the mid-1700s, tea services also included something called a slop bowl, which was the receptacle into which one would pour the cold tea sitting at the bottom of a cup before refilling it with fresh, hot liquid. Now that’s civilized!

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]

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    

Pair Great Norwegian Norway Sterling Silver Viking Ship Form Salt Cellar Bowls 4 Rare 1836 London Sterling Silver Floral Repousse Salt Cellar Bowls Charles FoxRare 1874 Gorham Aesthetic Sterling Silver Bowl Matte Flat Finish Gilt Interior English Sterling Silver Big Handled Covered Tureen Server Figural Top 1152 GramsBeautiful Set Of 8 Sterling Silver Swan Bowls Cellars & A Master Swan Bowl 9 PcsGorgeous Ellis Birks Sterling Silver & Royal Crown Derby Imari Serving Bowl DishAntique 1900 James Dixon Sterling Silver Boat/bowl Stunning Sheffield PieceVintage Reed & Barton Les Six Fleurs Sterling Silver Bon Bon BowlLovely C1900 Antique Sterling Silver & Cobalt Glass Sugar Condiment Bowl BasketPair Antique Georgian London 1810 Sterling Silver Ladles Sauce Soup Tureen 103g 2 Ornate Antique Dated 1903 Floral Form Sterling Bowls Reed & Barton Nr NrVintage 1960s Hallmarked Sterling Solid Silver 925 Wine Tasting Dish Bowl CupFine Birks Sterling Silver Pierced Pedestal Bowl Compote Tiffany & Co. Sterling Silver Pierced Basket Bowl With Handle * 123.6 Grams *Heavy Antique Solid Sterling Silver Pedestal Dish Bowl Sugar Bonbon Nuts 1904Nice Vintage Jw& Co. Sterling Silver 74.35 Dwt - 1948. Bowl - Ps5677Fabulous German 19c Sterling Silver Bowl Tray Repousse Figural Cherubs BirdsSterling Silver ~ Sugar Bowl / Basket With Swing Handle ~ Mappin & Webb 1913V.fine Birks Sterling Silver & American Brilliant Period Cut Glass Serving BowlEnglish Sterling Silver Zodiac Bowl London Charles Stuart Harris 1883 No ReservePeterson's Dublin Dark Browntextured Bowl Pipe W Sterling Hallmarked Band /nrIndian Colonial Sterling Silver Bowl Oxen Elephant Peacock Rabbit Deer Ca1890 Pair Antique Georgian London 1817 Sterling Silver Ladles Sauce Soup Tureen 117gNice Vintage Charles Desprez Sterling Silver 139.30 Dwt. Bowl - Ps5677Great Estate Lot Antique Womens Golfing Sterling Silver Trophy Rose Bowls & CupsEnglish Sterling Bowl Hammered Lion Handles BarnardAntique 1830 Birmingham England Sterling Silver Nut Bowl Bon Bon Basket W/handleAntique Signed Hand Hammered Arts & Crafts Sterling Silver Compote Tazza ... NrVery Large Early 19th Century Sterling Silver Spanish Colonial Bowl Dish 521gVintage Sterling Reed & Barton Francis I 11.5" Footed Bowl NrAntique Gorham American Sterling Silver Chantilly Weighted Compote Dish Bowl, NrTiffany Sterling Silver Repousse Open Sugar Bowl And Creamer Mixed Lot 9 Pieces Scrap Sterling- Weighted Candlestick Holders, BowlsVtg Paul Revere By Poole Sterling Silver .925 Large Bowl 480 Grams Monogrammed1932 Hythe Golf Club Welldon Bowl Memento Sterling Cup TrohpyGerman Jakob Grimminger Sterling Silver Modernist Rare Bowl 243 Grams Rare PieceVictorian Sterling Silver Milk Jug Sugar Bowl Sugar Tongs 4 Spoons London 1899 Early Large Heintz Art Metal Bowl Sterling On BronzeRepousse Sterling Silver Wallace Dish Bowl Candy Ornate 6" Grand BaroqueRare Tuttle Silversmiths Sterling Silver Compote Bowl 11.6oz C.1895 No Reserve RGorham Sterling Silver Clam Bowl Spoon - Patchogue, Long Island, New York Vintage Sterling Silver Pedestal Sauce Bowl With Ladle No ReserveVintage 5 1/2" Fancy Flowers & Scrolls Gorham Sterling Candy Bowl ~ 89.2 GramsVintage Reed & Barton X958b Windsor Sterling Silver Medium Bon Bon Bowl 7" 127gRare Sterling Silver Bowl Worshipful Company Of FruiterersLarge Ornate Border .900 Sterling Silver Colombian Bowl Dish 300 GramsVintage Sterling Silver Mid-century Modern Flared Bowl By Zurita, 1950s, MexicoSterling Silver Bowl In Shape Carolus Iv 1805 Year 8 Reales Coin 107g. No ScrapAntique Art Deco Hallmarked Solid Sterling Silver 925 Bon Bon Dish Bowl 69gVintage Sterling Silver Salt Cellar Or Finger Bowl Marked Pennsylvania RailroadVintage Norway Sterling Salt Spoon Shovel-style Bowl Enamel-accented Grip''1580 Grams'' Sterling Silver Treasure, Cpus,bowls,chain,spoon,necklace, OthersNice Vintage Gorham 10" Solid Sterling Silver Bowl 406 Grams Scrap (?) 92514 1/4 Ounces/ 406 Grams Scrap Sterling Silver Bowl Candlesticks Shakers SpoonsVintage 641 Grams Lot 6 Italian? 800 Silver Filigree Candy Sugar Bowls SterlingPl5: Vintage Japanese Tenmoku Tea Bowl With Sterling Silver RimWatson C.1890 Sterling Silver Large Bowl 358 Grams No ReserveAntique Gorham Durgin Sterling Silver Large Bowl Not Scrap 368 Grams Pattern 765Gorham Sterling Strasbourg 3 Round Bowl Soup Spoons 6 1/4" 2 Matching Sterling Silver Bowls 10.5" And 7" Total Weight 686 Grams No Reserve