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    

Fine Gorham Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Brandy Warmer Porringer Bowl Wine Taster3pc Antique Luen Wo Chinese Shanghai Sterling Silver Lidded Bowl W/footed Tray Tiffany Sterling Silver Bowl Salt Cellar Nut Dish Fish Crab Lobster Shell Marine3pc Antique Luen Wo Chinese Shanghai Sterling Silver Lidded Bowl & Tray W/bambooLarge 19thc Antique Victorian Gorham American Sterling Silver Pierced Heart BowlLarge Antique Art Nouveau Bso Sterling Silver Lily Pad Flower Bowl ... NrLrg Antique Victorian Repousse Shells & Flowers Sterling Silver Centerbowl BowlAntique 19thc George H. Ford & Gorham Sterling Silver Hand Repousse Bowl, NrBeautiful, Large, Cambridge Glass, "rose Point" Salad Bowl With Sterling FootRare & Exquisite Solid Sterling Silver Aesthetic Art Nouveau Bowl Chester 1901Solid Sterling Russian Enamel Kovsh For Vine.russia Silver 88 Sugar BowlAntique Mcchesney Co Sterling Silver Childs Baby Nursery Rhyme Bowl & Dish Set 8 Matching Ornate Sterling Silver Fruit Bowls By Redlich 49 Troy Ozs NrVintage Royal Irish Sterling Silver Bowl Dish Dublin Footed Scalloped Heavy OldSuperb 1749 Georgian Sterling Silver Repousse Sugar Bowl Tea Caddy Jar BoxAntique Meriden Brittania Co American Sterling Silver Center Bowl 22.31 Troy OzSterling Silver Bowl Dish Gorham 1902 Large Scalloped Embossed Flowers Old RareSterling Silver ~ Art Deco Large Quaich / Sailing Trophy Bowl ~ Victoria NyanzaFrench Sterling Silver Imported To England Footed Square Reticulated Bowl DishArt Deco Tiffany Solid Silver Octagonal Fruit Bowl Hallmarked 1932 Sterling NrArdor Urano With Unique Bowl Shape & Sterling Silver Band - PipestudBoxed Antique Sterling Silver Cream Jug & Sugar Bowl By Mappin & Webb Dated 1917Lovely Antique Solid Sterling Silver Rose Bowl Birmingham 1966 Lion Handles 110gFrank M Whiting Sterling Silver Basket Bowl 268-46 9.15 Oz.Filigree Sterling Silver Footed Bon Bon Basket With Glass Bowl IncludedSolid Sterling Silver Elkington 1923 313.72g Raised Bowl Or Bon Bon Dish Superb Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Bowl Vintage Mexico Sterling Bowl By Joyeria RealEnsco Sterling Revere Style Presentation Bowl - 26.2 Ozt. Size: 4.5" X 9"~ Vintage 7 Piece Gorham Cromwell Sterling Silver Candy Nut Bowls Dishes ~Huge Chinese Sterling Silver 2 Handled Bowl Bamboo Flowers Scroll Leaves C19101919 Arthur Stone Hand Hammered Sterling Presentation BowlInternational Paul Revere Reproduction D261 Sterling Silver 762.5g Bowl 22.67tozAntique Early 20thc Whiting American Sterling Silver Center Bowl, 13.34 Troy OzReed Barton Sterling Silver .925 Fruit Bowl FrancisAmazing Quality J.e Caldwell Ny Sterling Bowl Repousse Fruits Hunting Animals Vintage Sanborns Sterling Silver Modernist Design Coin Dish Bowl Ladies ChurchLarge Towle Sterling Bowl Silver Flutes #123Georgian Sterling Silver Commemoration Bowl 1812 LondonRussia Enamel Vodka Bottle ,sterling Silver 84 Bowl Vergolded 24k GoldVintage Tiffany & Co Sterling Silver Dish Bowl Cup Russia Enamel Kovsh Flower Design ,sterling Silver 84 Bowl Vergolded 24k GoldVintage 126g Peru 925 Perl Amano Sterling Silver Dish Bowl 5 Decimos 1915 CoinSterling Silver Ny Giants Super Bowl Xlvi Champions Men's Ring Size 12-13Vintage Norway Sterling Viking Ship BowlAntique Ornate Whiting Sterling Silver Repousse Centerpiece Bowl #1543m3 Sterling Silver Bowls 2 Wallace 1 Lunt Early Dublin Shape 265 Grams Rare BuySuperb Sterling Silver Art Deco Matching Sugar Bowl & Cream JugVintage Tiffany & Co 22954 Sterling Silver Bowl 5 1/8" Modern Lotus Flower 166gRussia Enamel Kovsh Flower Design ,sterling Silver 84 Bowl Vergolded 24k GoldVintage Retro 1956 Gorham Sterling Silver * Celeste * Sugar Bowl & CreamerAntique Silver Bowl, Eddie's, Sterling Mexico .925, Not WeightedAntique Sterling Silver Candy Nut Dish Compote Pedestal Bowl, EmpireAntique Sterling Silver .925 Candy Nut Dish Compote Pedistal Pedestal BowlIndian Lawn Tennis 1910 Solid / Sterling Silver Pedestal Dish / Bowl925 Sterling Silver Mauser Mfg New York Fine 3.5" Handled Bowl 87g8 Antique Cartier Sterling Silver & Glass, Shrimp Cocktail Glasses Bowls, NrAntique Sterling Candy Nut Dish Compote Pedestal Bowl, Whiting, C. 1948Antique 1897 Gorham Sterling Silver And Cut Glass Bowl, 268 Grams Of SterlingInternational Sterling Silver .925 Prelude Weighted Creamer And Sugar Bowl