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]

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    

Art Deco Sterling Silver Bowl - Hallmarked Birmingham Mappin & Webb 1924 - 517gEnglish Sterling Bowl Flowering Branch And Vine Harris 1897Sterling Silver 925 Tray Bowl With Large Austrian Silver Coin 1780 Maria ThalerAntique Sterling Silver Art Nouveau 3 Handle Nut, Sweet Or Sugar Bowl Dated 19121910 Weighted Sterling Silver 6 Sherbet Dessert Bowls Revere Silver Smiths NrSet 3 Antique Gorham Sterling Silver Chantilly Round Bowl Bouillon Soup SpoonsNice English Sterling Silver Open Salt Bowl Charles Stuart Harris 1891 75gmsOld Sterling Silver American Fruit Bowl Plate Dish Shreve & Co. San Francisco NmV.large & Heavy Sterling Silver Incense Burner / Potpourri Bowl, 635gmLily By Whiting 1902 Sterling Silver Guilded Shell Bowl Gravy Ladle 7 1/2" 105gHuge! 1900s 13" 23 Oz! Shreve & Co. Sterling Silver Scalloped Fruit Bowl DishS.kirk & Son Sterling Silver Repousse Footed Compote Bowl Gorgeus Set (3) Wallace Sterling Silver With A Milk Jug, A Sugar Bowl On A Tray.Antique 179g Chester H'm Sterling Silver 2 Handle Bowl Or Porringer Dated 1919Reed & Barton Sterling Francis I Nut Bowl/bon Bon 8"Antique Whiting Sterling Silver Large Floral Motif Repousse Bowl 176gFabulous Quality Antique Sterling Silver Art Deco Fruit Bowl 556 GramsLot Sterling Silver Scrap Or Not Tazza Creamer Sugar Caster Salt Pepper ShakerWallace Grande Baroque Sterling Round Bowl Soup Spoon 6 1/8" No MonogramTiffany & Co. Sterling Silver Footed Bowl Modernist VintageA Fine 1854 Victorian Antique Sterling Silver Reticulated Sugar Cube Basket BowlLovely Large Sterling Silver 2 Handled Dish Stand Footed Bowl London 1919Antique Solid Sterling Silver Edinburgh 1893 Scottish Quaich Bowl 111gramsSterling Silverweighted Footed Candy Compote Dish BowlGood Quality Large Antique Solid Sterling Silver Sugar Bowl, 1907/ 163 GS. Kirk & Son Repousse 409 Sterling Silver 6-1/4 Inch Bowl 139 GramsSmart Solid Sterling Silver Circular Sugar Bowl, 1968/ 88 G VgcAntique Small Solid Sterling Silver 3" Bowl 71gramsAntique Sterling Silver Ornate Nut Or Candy Dish Bowl Approx 25-26g Reed BartonVintage Crown Sterling Silver 6 1/4" Tall Pedestal Compote Bowl 221 GramsLarge Art Nouveau 1912 428 Gram Sterling / Solid Silver Pedestal Dish / Bowl Large Japanese Sterling Bowl With Mark And Artist Signed, Possible Meiji Period1941 Reed & Barton Sterling Silver Bowl 136.1g Not Scrap 7 3/4"l 5 7/8"wFessenden & Co Sterling Silver Sugar Spoon, Tulip, 1910, Gold Washed Bowl !!2 Vintage Japanese Solid Sterling Silver Nesting Bowls Not Scrap 137 Gr 4.8 OzSterling Silver Bowl, Frank M. Whiting, Scrap/use. 90 GramsGeorgian Sterling Silver Caddy Spoon Shovel Bowl 1781Very Early Sterling Silver Modernist Footed Bowl Wakely & Wheeler London 1942Sterling Silver Bowl Platter Lot No ReserveFabulous Sterling Silver Randahl Arts & Crafts Petal Bowl Rare Sterling Silver Set Of The First 6 Super Bowl Commemorative Coins. Nice!!!John Wendt "arabesque" Sterling Sugar Sifter Ladle, Lovely Piercing In BowlVintage Manchester Sterling Silver Bonbon Bowl Galdroon Border No Mono 6" Wide Vintage Pennsylvania Railroad International Silver Co. Sterling Bowl Vtg Sterling Silver 925 Weighted: Bowl Salt Pepper Knife Scrap? 401.1g GramsShiebler "corinthian" Sterling Large Soup Or Punch Ladle, Lovely Bright Cut BowlStieff Crown Mark Sterling Rose Repousse Oval Footed BowlAntique Howard & Co New York Sterling Silver Flower Boarder Bowl 200g ScrapAntique Tiffany Co Sterling Silver Palm Pattern Tray /bowl Circa 1897Vintage Sterling Silver Creamer , Sugar Bowl And Knife Lot Of 2 British Sterling Hallmarked Mini Bowls - Th Hazelwood Co.Victorian Sterling Footed Bowl Walter & John Barnard 1890 Engraved With The Vintage 1940s Sterling Silver Bowl By Reed & Barton - Estimate : 4 OzSterling Silver Georg Jensen Hand Hammered Arts & Crafts Footed Compote Bowl Vintage-sterling-silver-gorham-bowl-nice-design-leamington Hallmark #42673 8 "Vintage Frank M. Whiting Sterling Silver BowlAmerican Sterling Silver Bowl Set Hand Decorated Fruit & FloralLg Lot Antique Vintage Sterling Silver Spoons Forks Bowls 353.3 G Use Or ScrapSterling Silver Reed & Barton Paul Revere Minature Finger Bowls Set Of Two RareTiffany Sterling Bowl 19054 Original London 1734 Revere Style