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    

Antique Chinese Export Hand Made Dragon Sterling Silver Bowl By K.w 161.2 Grams Japanese Sterling Silver Bowl Meiji Signed 1909 TrophyEnglish Sterling Silver Bowl Lions 1923 Adie Bros.Japanese Sterling Silver Bowl Enamel Sadayoshi Was $8500Signed Georg Jensen Sterling Silver 925 Denmark Tazza Master Salt Cellar Dip NpaRare C.1815 English Sterling Silver Tea Strainer Bowl Shell London No ReserveJapanese Sterling Silver Salt Bowl Meiji Signed English 1787 Sterling Silver Huge Basket Handle Bowl James Smith London 1200g's Birmingham 1900 - Sterling Silver Bowl ~ Repousse ~ 69.1 Grams 4 Webster Sterling Silver Iced Tea Mint Julip Stir Spoons/straws W/heart BowlsBuffalo Horn & Sterling Silver Centerpiece Bowl By John Hardy/ Jewelry DesignerSigned Tiffany & Co Makers Sterling Silver 925 Pierced Compote Footed Tazza NpaTwo Gorham Strasbourg Solid Sterling Round Bowl Soup Spoons Solid 74 Grams 925Elegant Antique Russian Sterling Silver Floral Bowl, Dish With Handle, C.1890sPeterson's Dublin Meerschaum White Bowl Pipe W Sterling Band / NrNational Silver Sterling Covered Sauce Condiment Serving Bowl Tureen Pristine S. Kirk And Son Sterling Repousse 10 Inch Vegetable Bowl Antique Dominick & Haff Hand Hammered Sterling Silver Bowl Or M. Salt 1883 NrSigned Tiffany Co Makers Sterling Silver 925 Beaded Footed Bread Fruit Bowl Npa6 Antique Sterling Silver Shell Bowl Tea Spoons By Mappin & Webb Ltd Dated 1909Sterling Silver Bowl Scrap Or Not Monogrammed Paul Revere Reproduction 329 Grams114gm Paul Revere Reed & Barton 925 Sterling Nut Candy Dish Bowl Scrap Or UseIndustria Peruana Esterlina Camusso 925 Sterling Silver Peruvian Bowl 346 Grams An American Arts & Crafts Sterling Silver Hand Pounded Bowl, Hyman & Co. ChicagoTwo Gorham Strasbourg Solid Sterling Round Bowl Soup Spoons Solid 74 Grams 925Large 11.56oz Troy Antique Wallace Sterling Silver Vegetable Bowl 360g .925Lot Of Sterling Silver Jewelry Fork Buckle 8 Vintage Salt Bowls 265 Grams NrFaberge Sterling Silver Master Salt & Spoon W/ Cobalt Blue Bowl Dolphin W/boxSterling Silver And Green Enamel BowlGorham Sterling Silvercreamer & Sugar Bowl, Strasbourg, 1897, Really Nice !!Whiting? Gorham? Solid Sterling Silver (.925) Repousse Bowl 248 Grams No ReserveVintage Gourd Calabash With Wood Bowl And Sterling Silver BandAntique Kentucky Souvenir Sterling Silver Spoon With Enamel Bowl HorseVintage Antique Sterling Silver Bowl Signed: P.s. Co. 58.8 Grams Not Scrap! Two (2) Gorham Chantilly Sterling Round Bowl Bouillon Soup Spoons 41 Grams 925English Sterling Silver London 1783 Rare Tea Strainer Bowl John Crouch No ReservNice 9" Randahl Sterling Silver Bowl #f28Antique Sterling Silver Comport /pedestal Bowl 1910 ~ Heavy Edwardian Bowl 94.8gSigned Watson Sterling Silver 925 Reticulated Pierced Footed Candy Nut Bowl NpaVintage Revere Sterling Silver Smith Inc Footed Bowl 3 Oz No ScrapSterling Silver Lot, 2 Candy Dish/ Bowl-weighted-scrap, 1 Slat Shaker VintageEmpire Weighted Sterling Silver Weighted 6.25" Stemmed Compote Bowl Dish. Stunning Sanborns Sterling Decorative Console Bowl 792 Grams / 25.45 Troy OunceNowlan & Co Sterling Silver 12.25" Ornate Bowl Circa 1870-1926Vintage Gorham Sterling Silver Nut Dish Bowl Pair Cromwell 1 Large, 1 Small 4780Antique Marked Sweetser Sterling Silver 10 Side 10.5" Scalloped Serving Bowl Nr Black Starr & Frost 2 Sterling Silver Pierced Oval Bowls Bread TraysAntique Sterling Silver Candy/nut Server Hallmarked British? Gold Wash BowlGorham Sterling Silver Bowl10 Vintage Sterling Silver Individual Pierced Nut Bowls Dishes 140 GramsGorham Sterling Silver 925 Cromwell Pierced Shell Candy Nut Bonbon Dish Bowl NpaAntique Sterling Silver Comport /pedestal Bowl 1910 ~ Heavy Edwardian Bowl 93.8gAntique Sterling Silver Tea Strainer Bowl Infuser 1592 B.b.&b. CoC1899 Antique Sterling Open Salt Cellar Spoon Fabulous Shell Bowl Wc Of LondonSuperb Quality American Sterling Silver 12 Sided Bowl Tiffany New York Ca 1960 6 Durgin Gorham Fairfax Sterling 1910 Round Bowl Soup Spoons Monogram Antique Vintage Shreve & Co. San Francisco Sterling Silver Bowl/dish -#070130Vintage Sterling Silver Sugar Bowl Creamer By Shreve & Co San Francisco Sterling Silver Round Bowl Wm Rogers Mfg Nr925 Sterling Silver Marked 1959 G-s-b-y-r-a 3.5" Diameter Bowl 76 Grams