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    

Beautiful C1880 Tiffany & Co. Sterling Silver Floral Repousse Serving Rose BowlIncredible Huge Kirk & Son Sterling Silver Rose Floral Repousse Centerpiece BowlRare Huge Art Deco Gorham Sterling Silver Norwegian Viking Ship Rose Bowl VaseRare Gorham Sterling Silver Narragansett Oyster Shell Crab Figural Bowl & SpoonRare Look Vintage Sterling Silver Enamel *cat Looking In Fish Bowl Moves * CharmWonderful 1935 Art Deco Sterling Silver Nude Mermaid Figural Bowl Vase Stand N/rFine Large Pair Jenkins & Jenkins Sterling Silver Floral Repousse Serving BowlsLarge 1903 Dominick Haff Sterling Silver Chrysanthemum Repousse Centerpiece BowlGorgeous Large Antique Gorham Chantilly Sterling Silver Centerpiece Serving BowlVeryfine 19thc Gorham Sterling Silver Figural Maiden Medallion Serving Bowl DishLarge Fat Bowl Don Carlos Pipe With Sterling Silver ****unsmoked****Superb Quality 1839 Victorian William Eaton Sterling Silver Armorial Tureen BowlAntique English Sterling Silver Oval Tureen Or Bowl Chester 1901 6.41 Troy Oz.Rare Chinese Export Design Kirk & Son Sterling Silver Repousse Centerpiece BowlNice 1881 Victorian Sterling Silver Lion Floral Repousse Serving Bowl Candy DishChinese Export Silver (sterling) Bowl By Wing Nam 581 Grams With FiguresDominick & Haff Sterling Silver Child Mug Bowl Tray Set 1889 34ozEnglish Sterling Silver Tureen Entree Dish 1859 43 OzFine Antique Edwardian Sterling Silver Rose Bowl, 1902, 373 Grams, Truro Antique Sterling Silver Gilt Relief Decorated Table Jam Or Sugar Bowl Dated 1891English Sterling Silver Bowl Mustard Pot Emes & Barnard 1826Antique Solid Sterling Silver~pin Tray~nut Bon Bon Dish Mint Bowl~butter PatAmazing 1854 Victorian Barnard London Sterling Silver Sauce Tureen Bowl & StandExcellent Tiffany & Co. Sterling Silver Clover 9" Fruit Serving Bowl 1892-1902Howard Sterling Silver Bowl Lyre & Wreath New York 1894J.tostrup Norway Sterling Silver & Red Enamel Bowl 84 Grams Rare Item HallmarkedGood Antique Ornate Pierced English Sterling Silver Bowl London 1891Superb Antique Victorian Sterling Silver Milk Jug & Sugar Bowl, 180 Grams, 1881Peterson's K & P White Meerschaum Bowl Pipe With Sterling Band /nrExquisite French Sterling Silver Centre Bowl - Tray; From Boivin, Paris C. 1850English Sterling Bowl Shell & Floral Jubilee (anniversary) MarkAntique 512g Sterling Silver Milk Or Cream Jug & Sugar Bowl By Elkington C. 1912Abp Cut Glass High Quality Bowl With Gorham Sterling Silver Mounted RimKirk Sterling Bowl Hand Decorated Leaf And Floral Made C190512 Gorham Chantilly Sterling Ice Cream Forks Vermiel Bowl Pat1895 Mark D Mono NrVintage Gourd Calabash Pipe Meerschaum Bowl Sterling Silver Sherlock Holmes Antique Sterling Silver Shell Bowl Tea Caddy Spoon From Birmingham Dated 1921Boxed Antique 925 Sterling Silver Pierced Bowl 64g 4" X 2" X 2 1/4"Set 2 Reed & Bartone Sterling Silver Francis I Round Bowl Cream Soup SpoonEnglish Sterling Bowl Manner Paul Storr Dragon Handles 1890Vintage London 1971 Sterling Silver Dish / Bowl - William Comyn & Sons (g11)Superb Burmese Indian Sterling Silver Bowl High Relief Chased Tiger Figures 1890Excellent Large Heavy Antique Georgian 1803 Solid Sterling Silver Sugar BowlAntique Reed & Barton Sterling Silver Francis I Nut Bowl Dish, NrAmerican Sterling Bowl Basket Original Liner For Flower Arranging 38ozEnglish Sterling Silver Bowl Salt Cruet Sheffield 1782 LinersVintage Manchester Sterling Silver Bread Tray Bowl Platter 200g No Scrap1894 Victorian Antique Sterling Silver Basket / Bowl / Bon Bon Dish (g12)Antique Solid Sterling Silver~pin Tray~nut Bon Bon Dish Mint Bowl~butter PatVintage Antique Sterling Gorham Covered Bowl 318 Grams Scrap Or UseWallace Sterling Silver 132.4 Grams Antique Pedistal Bowl For Use Or Scrap Sterling Silver Serving Bowl. Preisner "162"Lot 6 Vintage Signed Sterling Silver 925 Round Bowl 2 1/4" Master Salt Spoons NrSolid Sterling Silver Clam / Shell Bowls Coffee Bean Spoons Arthur Price 1934Nice Antique Sterling Silver Small Bowl Or Large Salt London 1796Randahl Sterling Silver Hand Wrought Arts & Crafts Bowl R1 Hammered ChicagoAntique Sterling Silver Reticulated Footed Bowl Plate, Hanau Pseudo HallmarksAntique Alvin Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Heavily Embossed Bowl No Scrap VintageAntique Solid Sterling Silver~pin Tray~nut Bon Bon Dish Mint BowlBlack Starr Frost Sterling Tazza C1900 Exclusive Design