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

Most watched eBay auctions    

Huge British Punch Bowl Old English Sterling Silver Heavy Roberts & Belk Rare Nr19c Wfm Cut Crystal & Silver Plate Covered Soup Tureen Art Nouveau W/ Ladle NoreArt Deco Silver Plate 4pc Geometric Panelled Coffee/tea Set Jug Bowl BakeliteComplete Antique 1900s German Sterling/solid Silver Bouillon/bowl Soup & Tray Antique Edwardian Sterling Silver Repousse Oval Bowl Shell Scroll Border FloralSuperb Antique Art Nouveau Dragonfly Bowl Silver Pl Sweet Bonbon Bon Bon DishGeorg Jensen Sterling Silver Sugar Bonbonniere Floral Rose Rare Flower BowlAntique Edwardian Sterling Silver Small Pierced Sweetmeat Basket Bowl Atkin BrosPr 1930s Australian Silver Plated Footed Open Salt Bowls W Figural KookaburrasAntique Silver Plate 3pc Half-reeded Coffee/tea Set Sugar Bowl Milk Jug TeapotA Fine Quality Wang Hing Antique Chinese Export Solid Silver Basket Shaped BowlChinese Export Silver Tea Bowls (2) Wang Hing DragonsSolid Silver 1908 Quaich / Handled Bowl - 185 GmsGood Large 11" ~ Wmf ~ Silver Plated ~ Squirrel Nut Bowl On Pedestal ~ C1900Antique Aesthetic Sterling Silver Fluted Bon Bon Bowl Dish Robert James ChaplinAntique 1904 Harry Atkin Atkin Bros Solid Silver Floral Bon Bon Dish Bowl - 229gFinest Quality Elkington Silver Plate Lidded Dinner Tureen With Heating TrayPair 2 Antique Sterling Silver Vases Bowls Compote Rare Old Heavy Large HandmadeFrank Whiting Sterling Silver Tea Strainer W/ Matching F. Whiting Drip BowlArt Deco Silver Plate Cut-glass Sugar Bowl Bonbon/jam/preserve Pot Tri-foot LidAntique Hallmarked Sterling Silver Sugar Bowl Adams Georgian Style B’ham 1897Antique Victorian Silver & Lalique Glass Pedestal Dish Tazza C1895Large Antique Chinese Solid Silver Chrysanthemums BowlVintage Silver Plate 3 Section Round Muffin Dish Small Entrée Vegetable BowlSolid Silver 1907 Quaich / Handled Bowl - 145 GmsFinest Japanese Sterling Silver Duck Open Salt Cellar Bowl/dish Dip Figural PairAntique Islamic Malay Sumatran Indonesia Beaten Silver Large Bowl 20th CCaldwell Sterling Bowl Egyptian Pharaoh Head Icrr Illinois Central Railroad Silver Sauce Tureen W/ Cover And Under PlateRare Lehigh Valley Railroad Black Diamond Silver Plated Small Bowl Art & Crafts1805 American Engraved Coin Silver Tea Сaddy Sugar Bowl Eoff & Howell Ny 466 GrPretty Hand-embossed Antique Scottish Solid Silver Bowl 1899/ Dia 12.5 CmLarge Vintage Silver Plate Fret Work Cut Work Centerpiece Bowl Flower Bowl FrogXmas Sale Japanese Chinese Sterling Pure Silver Iris Double Bowl 1908; 222 GrLarge Islamic Silver Inlay Bowl Mamluk Cairoware Arabic Calligraphy PersianAntique Sheffield Silver Plate 3pc Tea Set Teapot Sugar Bowl Milk Jug J DixonRoyal Doulton Marked Kingsware Silver Mounted Bowl With "pied Piper" 20thc2pc Dominick Haff Emperor Set Sterling Silver Gold Creamer Sugar Bowl Old Heavy Vintage Stunning Solid Sterling Silver Pedestal Bowl, Cs, 360g 18.6cm, Birm 1923Earlier 19c Dutch .833 Solid Silver Covered Tureen With Lion Head Handles 12oztPrimitive Snowman And Tree In Vintage Silver Sugar Bowl-christmas/holiday DecorHeavy Tiffany & Co. Sterling Oval BowlEnglish Sterling Bowl - Basket Bird & Crown Crest 1897 Good Large 15" ~ Silver Plated ~ Tureen Bowl & Ladle ~ C1850George 11 Toddy Ladle Silver With Baleen Handle & Silver Crown To Bowl- 1737.Smart Antique Solid Sterling Silver Sugar Bowl 1900/ L 15.2 Cm/ 137 GLimited Edition Commemorative Silver Bowl - "the Aurum Life Boat Bowl"Vintage Silver Plate Over Copper Grape Design Centerpiece Bowl Fruit BowlGood Rare ~ Georgian ~ Sheffield Silver Plate ~ Wire Ware Bowl ~ C1800C1930'a Prill Silver Co. Unique Roman Chariot Moving Wheels Caddy Sugar BowlIslamic: Fine Antique Ottoman / Persian Solid Silver Hammam Bowl Or Sweet DishHermes Paris Vintage Silver Plate Chain D' Ancre Bowl / Candle Holder Box GiftAntique German 800 Silver Bowl Repousse & OpenworkCartier Sterling Silver Bowl No Monogram 117.4 Grams Fast Free Shipping !!!Very Large Heavy Antique Burmese Silver Bowl C1890's Absolutely Superb 1.48kg !!Georg Jensen Sterling Silver Bowl 620cVintage Silver Plate Oval Gadroon Entrée Dish Tureen Ornate Handle Wm A RogersPoole Lancaster Rose Sterling Handled Punch Ladle W/ Silver Plate BowlWow Antique American 925 Sterling Silver Double Handle Sugar Bowl Pot Mueck-caryHuge 14" Antique Tiffany & Co. Sterling Silver Centerpiece Bowl Chippendale Nr