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    

Set Of 4 Antique Signed Cartier Sterling Silver Coaster Bowls, 14.03 Troy Oz1830 Dated 5.1kg Heavy Superb Dutch Gilded Solid Silver Soup Tureen Swans CondtnSuperb Very Large 13" ~ Silver Plated ~ Lions Head ~ Punch / Fruit Bowl & LadleVintage Sterling Silver Squat Oval Baluster Bowl/bread/fruit Basket HazorfimRare Sterling Silver Reed & Barton Francis Individual Toothpick Holder Dish BowlVintage Sheffield Silver Plate 5pc Baluster Coffee Tea Set Tray Sugar Bowl JugRare Sterling Silver Reed & Barton Francis Individual Toothpick Holder Dish Bowl3" Islamic Persian Cairoware Calligraphy Brass Bowl Ilaid With Copper & Silver Reed & Barton Sterling Silver Bowl Francis I Pattern - LargeA Stunning George V Solid Silver Tea Set Birmingham 1911 Tea Pot Sugar Bowl Jug Antique Edwardian Sterling Silver Large Oval Repousse Floral Pierced Basket/bowlAntique 925 Sterling Silver Tastevin Wine Tasting Cup Bowl Coin Centre 112gStunning Solid Silver Tea Set Sheffield 1967 Pot Sugar Bowl Milk Jug Vgc 1071gFine Antique 1890s Tiffany & Co Heavy Sterling Silver Ornate Serving Bowl 294.5g818g Sterling Silver Mappin & Webb Large Pedestal Bowl - George V 1913 - 21.5cmSterling Silver Italy Rococo Style Repousse Floral Gilt Basket/bowl HazorfimExquisite Quality Antique Indo Persian Islamic Solid Silver Bowl; Kutch C1890 Rare & Beautiful Ornate Solid Silver William Comyns Victorian Pierced Bowl 1892Extremely Fine Antique Persian Islamic Solid Silver Hand Chased Bowl 205.2gAntique Edwardian Sterling Silver Pierced Basket Bowl Swing Handle Goldsmiths CoA Good Quality Sterling Silver Tea Strainer & Bowl Sheffield 1947 105 GramsAntique Edwardian Sterling Silver Pedestal Vase Footed Tazza Bonbon Dish ComportAntique 925 Sterling Solid Silver Pair Three Leg Salt Pinch Condiment Bowls 89gAntique Silver Mounted Meerschaum Pipe Inscribed & Dated 1848 Victorian BowlVintage Italy Sterling Silver Raised Repousse Reeded Bon Bon Bowl/dish HazorfimBeautiful Solid Silver Pierced Pedestal Bowl Mappin & WebbHallmarked Silver Sugar Bowl ( 101g ) Birmingham 1932Reed & Barton Sterling Silver Bowl Francis I Pattern - SmallBox Set Of Antique Victorian Caviar Bowls , Mother Of Pearl & Silver HallmarkedEdwardian Silver Tea For 2 Teapot Sugar Bowl & Milk Jug Thomas Otley & SonsBeautiful Cartier 364 Sterling Powder Bowl W/velvet LiningAntique/vintage Middle Eastern Egyptian Silver Repousse Bowl + Under PlateRare Antique Hand Made Ornate Open Scroll Sterling Silver Sugar Bowl 162g!Buccellati 9 Inch 681 Gram Italian Sterling Holloware Oval Footed BowlGorham Sterling Salt Bowl Set C1905American Brilliant Abp Cut Glass Bowl Shreve Sterling Silver Tuthill SinclairAntique Victorian Solid Silver Twin Handled Pedestal Bowl / Dish - 1894Pr Sterling Silver 925 Scalloped Clam Shell Ball Foot Candy Nut Dish Bowl Mai NrAntique Victorian Silver Punch / Rose Bowl London 1891 – Barnard Lions Head 416gAttractive, Victorian Silver Sugar Bowl, 1896, 502gm - Barnard FamilyStunning Victorian Silver Sugar Bowl, 1849, 420gmFine Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Wm. B. Kerr Oval BowlVtg Sterling Silver Scallop Shell Oval Repousse Footed Candy Dish Bowl 9076 6"Antique Solid Silver Bowl Maxfield & Sons Ltd Sheffield 1919-20 114.3 GramsWeighted 925 Sterling Silver Vintage/antique 6" Squat Compote Dish Bowl 223gVintage Alfredo Sciarrotta Sterling Silver Maple Leaf Bowl Italian Dish 123gReed & Barton "francis I" X569 Sterling Silver 11-1/4" Centerpiece Serving BowlRussia Enamel Kovsh , Sterling Silver 88 M.c. Kowsh , Russian Vine Bowl 127,4 GrWonderful Art Deco Solid Silver Rose Bowl, 1927, 590gm - Mappin & WebbAntique E.f. Caldwell Sterling Silver Pierced Dish Oval Fruit Bowl Bread BasketSolid Mexican Sterling Silver Mexico Vintage 6" Floral Ash Tray Bowl Dish 167gLot Of 2 Orange Enamel Silver Metal Food-safe Bowl Dish Decor, 6" W X 2.5" HAntique Victorian Silver Punch / Rose Bowl London 1891 – Barnard Lions Head 424gA.a.1896 Russia Enamel Kovsh , Sterling Silver 84 Kowsh , Russian Vine Bowl 36gLarge Fine Quality Victorian Solid Silver Nut Bowl Dish Hm1894 Vad Mess 1943 NrMiniature Dollhouse Artisan Eugene Kupjack Sterling Silver Sugar BowlLot Of 2 Orange Enamel Silver Metal Food-safe Bowl Dish Decor, 6" W X 2.5" HRussia Enamel Kovsh , Sterling Silver M.c.88 Kowsh , Russian Vine Bowl 71,2 GrEnglish Sterling Bowl Dangered Species Antique Tiffany & Co. William Comyns & Sons London 1950 Bowl In Sterling Silver