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    

English Sterling Soup Tureen Bowl 1777 108 OzAntique Jacobi & Jenkins Baltimore Sterling Silver Repousse Waste Bowl TeasetC1930s Arts & Crafts Cellini Craft Sterling Silver Footed Bowl Hand Hammered NrVintage Arts & Crafts .925 Sterling Silver Bowl Dish Seahorse DecorationEnglish Sterling Dragon Bowl Sibray Hall Co., 1902Shiebler Sterling Silver Bowl Hand Carved Floral C1890Bixby Sterling Bowl & Tray Hand Decorated C1900 1-4 English Sterling Silver Shell Dish Center Bowl 1904Antique Solid 925 Sterling Silver Scottish Quaich Drinks Bowl Miniature Size 35gAntique Solid 925 Sterling Silver Ornate Bowl 169gAntique Solid 925 Sterling Silver Pair Bon Bon Bowls Dishes Fitted Case 73gRandahl No. 243 Solid Sterling Silver .925 Large 9.5" X 2" Bowl 534+ GramsEnglish Sterling Bowl Floral Shell Diamond 1901A Very Stylish Art Deco Solid Sterling Silver 2-handle Sugar Bowl6 Reed & Barton Francis I Sterling Silver Round Bowl Soup Spoons,6",no MonosAntique Solid 925 Sterling Silver Ornate Bowl Elegant Bon Bon Dish 70gRare Antique George Shiebler Sterling Repousse Cream And Sugar Bowl C.1876-1910Edwardian Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Two Handled Bowl 1906. W. HuttonArt Deco Sterling Silver Bowl / Sugar Bowl Hm 1927 - Adie Bros. 81 GramsRare Georgian Scottish Sterling Silver Tazza Dish Crest Robert Luke Glasgow 1725Antique Solid 925 Sterling Silver Ornate Bowl 183gVintage 4 1/2" Unger Bros Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Floral Tray Dish BowlSterling Sugar Bowl & Creamer By Birks ~ 5.81 Troy Ounces ~ Solid / Not WeightedSterling Souvenir Spoon Xmas Theme - Santa Merry Christmas W/ Tree Bowl ~nr~Savinelli Silver €Antique Victorian Sterling Silver Floral Flower Pedestal Centerbowl Bowl Dish NrAntique Solid 925 Sterling Silver Pair Miniature Quaich Drinks Bowl 90gVintage 49g 5" Dominick & Haff Sterling Silver Decorative Floral Tray Dish BowlPair Estate Sterling Silver Compotes Comport Tazza Bowls Sheffield England 1906 Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Clover Thistle Repousse Bowl Dish William B Kerr Co(3) S. Kirk & Son Sterling Silver Repousse Round Bowl Soup SpoonsEstate Vintage Sciarrotta Shreve, Crump & Low Sterling Silver 925 Leaf Bowl DishSuperb Sterling Silver Wood Mazer Bowl & Spoon Harrods Fitted Case Ae Jones 1914Hand Hammered German Arts Crafts Bwks Large Sterling Silver BowlPair Antique Victorian Gorham American Sterling Silver Repousse Salt Bowl DishesEstate Hazorfim Sterling Silver 925 & Glass Honey Sugar Dish Bowl With SpoonVintage 1899 Horton Allday English Scalloped Sterling Silver Tray Dish Bowl, 53g Sterling Silver Richard Dimes Large Bowl 17.69 Oz Scrap/use Okubo Sterling 950 Teapot, Creamer, And Sugar BowlSterling Silver Dessert Bowl With Spoon Scrap Or Not 132 GramsSterling Gorham Souvenir Spoon Saratoga Springs Indian Round Bowl Cast Series NrGorham Sterling Silver 1950's Scrap Or Restore 1247 Grams Total Platter And Bowl1894 James Dixon And Sons Sterling Silver .925 Basket With Cut Crystal Bowl! Hallmarked Solid Sterling Silver Bowl.(3.5 Ounces!) No Reserve!not Scrap!Sterling Silver Sugar Bowl With SpoonSterling Silver Gravy Sauce Ladle With Shell Bowl Kirk Stieff Williamsburg ShellInternational Sterling Silver 2 Bowls T177-1 And 1 B179 Prelude 415 GramsP0103 Beautiful Cartier Sterling Silver Shallow Bowl Or Plate 9" 204.7 GAntique Whiting Gorham Sterling Silver 1902 Lily Berry Spoon W/ Gold BowlTiffany & Co Sterling Silver Small Round Decorative Bowl Dish Vintage 1918, 72g English 3" Round Sterling Silver Dish Bowl, Fine Estate Piece Hand Hammered Sterling Silver Emilia Castillo Hardstone Inlay BowlAntique Theodore B. Starr Sterling Silver Bread Tray Bowl Faberge Sterling Silver Master Salt & Spoon W/ Cobalt Blue Bowl Dolphin W/boxNew Port Sterling Silver Sugar Bowl, Creamer Scrap / Use. 120 GramsAntique Gorham Durgin Sterling Silver Large Bowl Not Scrap 368 Grams Pattern 765International Wedgwood Sterling Silver Double Handle Bonbon Bowl.925 Sterling Silver Lot Scrap Bowl Bracelets Rings Pendants Earrings 400.7 GramCourtship B197 Sterling Silver 925 Nut Bowl Candy Dish 2.8oz Not Scrap ? VintageVintage 1941 Tiffany Sterling Silver Presentation Bowl - New York Athletic Club