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    

Quality Antique Chinese Solid Silver Mug Dragon Handle 13 Cm/ 0.38 Ml/ 270 G Set X 6 Solid Silver Liquor Goblets, 1905, 179gmGood Pair Elizabeth Ii Floral Engraved Sterling Silver Goblets, 1974, 240 GramsEarly Georgian Antique English Sterling Silver Repousse Tankard Handled Cup LoeVintage Solid Hallmarked Sterling Silver Cocktail Jigger CupAntique English Sterling Silver Hallmarked Mustard Cobalt Glass Jar Tankard LoeStunning, Solid Silver Kiddush Goblet, Modern, 233gmVintage Lenox Sterling Silver Demitasse Gold Rim Cup & Saucer Set Of 6Victorian Antique Sterling Silver Mug/cup 1863 Henry Atkin Repousse ChristeningGood Antique Edwardian Sterling Silver Goblet, 1902, Rose Society, 288 GramsHeavy Good Quality Solid Sterling Silver Pint Beer Mug/ Tankard 1942/ 444 G Vgc1839 Antiques Russian Sterling Silver Gilt 84 Cossack Cup Stopa 252 Grams HugeArts & Crafts Guild Of Handicraft 1957 Sterling / Solid Silver Cup / BeakerSterling Silver Glasses 4 Antique Shot Glass Cup Bar Set Lot Blackinton W CaseChester, Solid Silver Pint Tankard, 1923, 314gmVintage Lot Of 4 Wallace #14 Sterling Silver Goblet Cup No Monogram 1857-1864 Sterling Southern Silver George Sharp Jr Danville Kentucky Julep Cup Set Of 8 International Lord Saybrook Sterling Silver Goblets Cups P664 & 11950/1English Sterling Tankard Bacchus Spout Henry Wilkinson 1893 24ozFine Antique Hanau Solid Silver Tankard Vinaigrette Simon Rosenau Bad KissingenAn Antique George Ii Sterling Silver Mug John Priest London 1759Quality Solid Silver Porringer/ Christening Cup & Spoons, Boxed 1944 VgcGood Elizabeth Ii Floral Engraved Sterling Silver Goblet, 1968, 132 GramsSterling Silver Cartier Mint Julip Cup # 3759 JerrySuperb Large Heavy 257g Antique Victorian 1883 Solid Sterling Silver Wine GobletLarge Antique George Iii Solid Sterling Silver Pint Mug / Tankard London 1762Antique Tiffany & Co Makers .925 Sterling Silver Cup Baby 80 GramsMint Tall French Hallmark 1880s Lafayette Pedestal Sterling Silver Beaker CupSuperb Large Heavy English Antique L1965 Solid Sterling Silver One Pint TankardJewish English Sterling Silver Goblet Pair Kiddush Cups London & Birm 1905-10Antique Sterling Baby Cup, Dorothy, 1893Vintage Sterling Silver Mint Julep Cup ~ Set Of 2 ~ No MonogramsEnglish Sterling Silver Mug Celtic Dragon Adie Bros 1958Antique Solid Sterling Silver~pin Tray~nut Cup~bon Bon Dish Mint BowlRare S Kirk & Son Sterling Silver Julep Cup Goblet 277 With Ever-ready BrushAntique Solid Silver Christening Mug / Tankard - Art Deco Period - 1934Asprey & Garrard Sterling Silver The Vintage Cup Armada Dish London 1999Antique Victorian Sterling Silver Mug C. 1880sAynsley England 5 Cobalt & Gold Demitasse Cup & Saucers With Sterling HoldersAntique .925 Sterling Silver Cup With Handle 134 Grams EngravedHandsome Large Heavy 330g English Antique 1925 Solid Silver 1 Pint Wine GobletFine Antique George Ii Solid Sterling Silver Half Pint Mug Tankard London 1749A Rare George Iii Solid Silver Loving Cup Hallmarked London 1770 (323g)Vtg Sterling Silver 925 Jewish Judaica Etched Star Of David Kiddush Cup W/ PlateFabulous 1870 RÉpoussÉ 140gr London Sterling Silver Floral Decorated Goblet NrHeavy, Solid Silver Pint Tankard, 1921, 422gmAntique Paw Bateman Hand-embossed Solid Sterling Silver Pint Mug/ Tankard 1804Beautiful Antique Islamic Turkish Ottoman Solid Silver Cup Beaker Signed TughraSterling Silver Child's Cup Or Baby Cup VintageLot Of 2 Small Sterling Silver Baby Cups With Engraving, Derby Silver CompanySuperb Pair Danish Sterling Silver Beaker Cups Sigvard Bernadotte Georg JensenVintage London Solid Silver Hallmark Tankard2 X Vintage Kiddush Israeli Jewish Solid Silver Cups .925 Sterling 3" - 76.1 GVintage Sterling & Enamel Gorham Stoplight Jigger Cup Shot Glass No. 354Russian Vodka Shot Cup 84 Sterling Silver, 1908 - 1917 / 36.8g.Antique 1947 Swedish Hallmarked Solid Sterling Silver 925 Goblet Kiddush CupReed And Barton Sterling Shot Glass- Excellent Condition! Jigger Cup!Nice 1920s Solid Sterling Silver Twin Handled Trophy Cup - London 1928Superb Pair Sterling Silver Wine Cups Goblets Bark Effect Stems Box London 1975Good Antique George V Art Deco Sterling Silver Pint Mug, 352 Grams, 1934