Antique Sterling Silver Cups and Goblets

If you can think of a drink, there’s probably a sterling silver cup for it. Throughout history, silversmiths have made handsome silver wine goblets, sturdy silver beer tankards, ceremonial silver beakers, and, of course, sterling silver baby cups, a beloved and longstanding tradition.

Scandinavians are thought to have made the first sterling silver drinking vessels. They produced tall and slender silver beer steins in the late 1500s. The Germans started producing wider and squatter silver drinking tankards in the early 1600s. And one of the earliest examples of American silver is a tiny cup made by Robert Sanderson and John Hull in 1651.

English and German tankards from the mid-1600s look a lot like the designs we’re familiar with today. These vessels were wide and tapered outward at the top, with a skirted base at the bottom. Many were engraved, hammered, or molded with scenes from the Bible or Greek mythology. Other tankards saluted coronations, or were emblazoned with the seals of aristocratic or royal families. Simpler tankards were decorated in pastoral, floral, or other nature-based designs.

The sides of these cups were one place for these decorations, but the bases were often treated, too. Silversmiths had particular fun with the handles, which were fashioned into serpents or twisted vines. On tankards with lids, the thumb pieces were another important visual component. Some resembled the heads of lions or snakes; others depicted cherubs, masks, or faces.

The mug, a smaller and lidless version of the tankard, was another popular form. Many of us probably even have a silver mug-like cup that was given to our parents as a present not long after our birth. This tradition goes back to a time when tableware wasn’t mass-produced and a cup was a practical, sensible gift. Baby mugs in silver have an added layer of meaning as symbols of good luck and prosperity.

In general, mugs are more elegant than tankards. Those made in America in the 18th and 19th centuries commonly featured embossed patterns and scenes that complimented their floral or serpentine handles. Mugs often sat on a foot, giving them a much lighter look than their hulking tankard counterparts.

The cup is perhaps the most common drinking vessel; it descended from beakers, many of which were made out of silver. A beaker is essentially any cup that’s taller than it is wid...

Despite their simplicity, beakers have been made in an enormous number of styles. In Russia and Eastern Europe, engraved shot-glass-sized beakers were prized as must-haves for drinking vodka. Some were perfectly cylindrical, but most tapered out at the top. Other beakers swelled in the middle (think of the shape of a barrel) or were designed to stand on an embossed foot.

By the 20th century, craftsmen favored sterling silver for all sorts of home decor and furnishings, but its practical use for drinking vessels was less common. The silver vessels that were made tended to be highly ornamented in the Art Nouveau or Arts and Crafts style, and were meant for either limited or special personal use.

The beaker is a good example of this evolution. In the 19th century, affordable ceramic or glass beakers overtook sterling silver ones for everyday use. Thus, sterling silver beakers were either used as armatures, if you will, for elaborate decorations, or they were saved for special occasions and beverages.

One drink for which sterling silver still rules is the mint julep. A mint julep is a refreshing, bourbon-based concoction that’s popular in the American south, especially at the Kentucky Derby where it’s the official drink. Julep beakers are tall and generally cylindrical, and the metal keeps the drink cool in the hot southern sun. But an event like the Kentucky Derby is all about ceremony, which is why a lot of attention is paid to the engraved or embossed initials, family crests, or another sorts of monograms on Derby-day beakers.

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    

Pair Splendid C.1900 Marked Russian Gilt Solid Silver Stirrup Cups Wild CatsImperial Russian Silver Cup 84 Tea Glass Holder Mug Excellent 152gVery Fine Quality Antique 84 Silver Enamelled Russian Tea Cup & Saucer HallmarksAntique Imperial Russian Silver Holder Cup 84 Excellent 101gAntique Gorham Sterling Chalice Goblet, Pantin, Spoon Holy Water Bottle Host BoxRare Reg Design 1907 Novelty Night Cap Stirrup Tot Cup Silver Plate Antique NrUnusual Art Nouveau Handle Solid Silver Tankard Hm1905 Elkington &co Antique NrFine Georgian English Silver Tankard C.1769 Super Unusual Antique Armorial Old Sheffield Silver Plate Egg Cup Stand 1830 OspAntique C 1912 Heintz Sterling Silver On Bronze Dupont Trophy Loving Cup Nr YqzAntique Solid Sterling Silver Shot Cup Tray 1914/ L 24 CmSuperb Georgian English Silver Tankard By Fuller White C.1762 Set 6 Sterling Silver 925 Holder W/ 5 Shenango China Porcelain Demitasse Cup Nr 6 Antique Wallace American Sterling Silver Goblet Cups, 32.78 Troy OzWell-made Solid Sterling Silver Drinking Beaker/ Cup 1919/ H 10.2 CmRare Solid Silver Novelty Walker & Hall Trick Tankard 1898 248 GramsA Superb Collection Of Vintage Silver Plated Trophy CupsSuperb Antique Crested Armorial Silver Plated 6 Egg Cup Stand Elkington & CoA Pair Of Antique Russian Silver 84 Niello Enamel Footed Cups, Circa 1866Russia 84 Silver 2x Set Of Cup/glass N.2Mexican Sterling Silver Goblets (2) Sanborn 23 OzVintage Tiffany & Co. Sterling Silver Egg Cups W/ Pouch Set Of 4Boxed Solid Sterling Silver Mug/ Tankard 1962/ 340 Ml VgcC1892 Heavy 7+ Oz Bigelow Kennard & Co Sterling Silver Child's Baby Cup MugSuperb Set 6 Elizabeth Ii Sterling Silver Goblets, 633 Grams, 1973Emilia Castillo Mexico .925 Sterling Silver 8.25" Tall Wine Goblet 409g (8053)Antique American Coin Silver Mug Cann R. Beauvais St Louis 1850Chinese Export Silver Tea Cup & Saucer Tea Set Cobra Dragon Antique Russian Silver 84 Niello Enamel Large Footed Cup, Circa 1866Antique&exquisite Engraved(handmade) Solid Sterling Silver French Tankard/wineRussia 84 Silver 2x Set Of Cup/glass N.21901 - Solid Sterling Silver Edwardian Hm Christening Mug - James Deakin & SonsVictorian London 1865 Sterling / Solid Silver Floral Cup / MugSterling Silver Decanter And Sterling Cordial Cups On A Sterling TrayHeavy 135g Solid Silver Goblet By Douglas Heeley~sheffield 1976Set 6 Sterling Silver Reticulated Egg Cups Berries,acornsHarlequin Set Of 5 Hallmarked Sterling Silver Judaic Kiddush Cups Various MakersMassive & Beautiful Solid Silver Victorian Goblet Charles Boyton Ii 363 GramsSet Of Six Large Tiffany Sterling Silver & Gold Washed Interior Jefferson Cups(4) Beautiful Rare Vintage Sterling Silver 925 Tiffany & Co. Makers Goblets Weighted Sterling Silver Set Of 4 Vintage Trophy Shaped Cups Or Mini Goblets CibAntique Solid Silver English Hallmarked 1922 Egg CupWalker & Hall Solid Silver Christening Mug 1945 Sheffield SeeinElkington & Company Renaissance Silver Plate Armorial Wine Goblets Set Of 8Fantastic Antique Chinese Silver Wine/teapot And CupAntique Armorial Gothic Revival Silver Plated Egg Cup Stand Cruet 1895Good Vintage 1930s Thick Gauge Solid Sterling Silver Egg Cup - Sheffield 1931A Fine Solid Sterling Silver Christening Mug Birmingham 1959 By Bishton's Ltd.Quality Stylish Soldi Sterling Silver Christening Cup/ Mug 1946/ H 7.5 Cm Vgc Rare & Beautifully Engraved Solid Silver Victorian Christening Tankard 18941898 Cased 3pc Asprey Ivory Handle Silver Cup & Stand.hunting/military LeucharsPair Of 19thc Russian Silver Vodka Goblets Or Egg Cups Stamped 84 & Maker's MarkLot Of 2 Aynsley England Cups Beaker ,birks Sterling Silver HoldersSet Of Six Medium Tiffany Sterling Silver & Gold Washed Interior Jefferson CupsPair On Antique Silver Goblets6-sterling Silver Cordial Shot Cup Goblets Stamped Sterling 950 Lot Vintage Sterling Silver Flatware Carving Set Child's Cup Snuff Spoons More Quality Antique George V Sterling Silver Mug, 1924, 100 Grams, ZimmermansEarly 1900s Solid Silver Hallmarked Egg Cup PairSet Of 4 Antique Sterling Silver Sherbet Dessert Cups Holders W/ Glass Inserts