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]

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    

Lrge Rare Antique 18th Century Georgian Newcastle 1750 Solid Silver Pint TankardLovely Early Antique 18th Century George Ii 1745 Solid Silver Half Pint TankardAntique Sterling Silver & Enamel Chinese Wine Cup & Warmer Drum Box Jar, NrExquisite Victorian Antique Solid Silver Cup Birmingham 1867Superb Large Heavy English Antique 1939 Solid Sterling Silver One Pint TankardStunning Large Heavy English Antique 1966 Solid Sterling Silver One Pint TankardGood Solid Sterling Silver Beer Pint Mug/ Tankard Coronation Mark 1953, Vgc Antique Date Marked 1887 Gorham Sterling Silver Aesthetic Fluted Cup MugQuality Hand-engraved Antique Solid Sterling Silver 1/2 Pint Mug/ Tankard 1873Antique Sterling Silver Horse Racing Trophy Cup By Dieges And Clust6 Antique Russia 875 Sterling Silver Niello Tea Cup Glass Holder Set Gilt KubachDutch Or English Solid Silver Marriage Wedding Wager Cup Chester German Xviii6 Sterling Tumblers Webster Co. Mint Julep Cup 22 Troy Ounce 665 Grams .925Beautiful Set Of 6 Antique Persian Islamic Solid Silver Tots / Beakers / CupWood & Hughes Sterling Silver Mug C1850 1804 Irish Georgian Solid Silver Coconut Cup George Iii Antique Russian Sterling Enamel Silver 84 Vodka Cup Russia Cup 84 With HeadFour Frank M. Whiting & Co. Sterling Silver Goblets/cups1873 Gorham Sterling Silver Trophy Loving Cup Vase "cjpa" Jan 1904 309 Grams Nr!Antique Sterling Silver Horse Racing Pedestal Trophy Cup By Dieges & Clust-1921Russian Mosco 1877 Niello 84 Solid Silver Kiddush Cup + Other No Reserve EstateRare Unusual Antique Solid Silver Christening Mug / Tankard - 1832 - Half PintManchester Sterling Silver Mint Julep Cup - Applied Horseshoe St Lukes 1954Solid Silver Tankard Cup 1966 231gAntique Solid Silver Indian Colonial Mug Beaker - C1890 CalcuttaSet Of 6 Gorham Sterling Silver 6 1/2 Inch Wine Goblets 80 Grams Each Times SixHeavy Little Solid Silver Tankard Birmingham 1934 By Mappin & Webb 200gAntique Chinese Silver Wine Glass Vase And Cups.mark Sterling 950.Chalice With Sterling Silver CupEnglish Sterling Silver Goblet Beaker Leaf & Diamond Hennell 1856Superb ~ Solid Silver ~ Petite Tankard Cup ~ B'ham 1961 By Joseph Gloster A Solid Silver Christening Cup Hallmarked Birmingham 1960Marlam Marcam Bangalore Hallmarked Solid Sterling Silver Christening Cup MugDoll House Miniature Sterling Silver Tankard - Peter Acquisto W Certificate-box4 Kentucky Derby Mint Julep Cups Sterling Silver By International Silver CompanyVintage Sterling Silver Stein Beer Tankard Mappin Webb England 27ozSolid Sterling Silver 925 Vintage/antique Empire Baby Cup-- No Monogram 45gVintage Solid Silver Egg Cup Hallmarked Bishton Ltd Birmingham 1962.Rare & Heavy Solid Silver & Gold Gilt Coat Of Arms Goblet William Comyns 1973Antique Georgian English Sterling Silver Mounted Coconut Cup Dated 1808Indian Sterling Goblet Racing Trophy Lemindras Purse 1864 HamiltonAntique Sterling Silver Goblets Set Of 6Boxed 1930s Solid Silver Egg Cup & Spoon SetDoll House Miniature Sterling Silver Tankard By Peter Acquisto W BoxQuality Indian/ Burmese Solid Silver Cocktail Goblet/ Double Measure2 Vintage Newport Sterling Silver Mint Julep Cups Band Banded Base 1661Russian Enamel Vodka Cup. Russia Cup Sterling Silver 84 Modern Vintage C.j. Vander English Sterling Silver Punch Cup HallmarkedVintage Reed & Barton Gryphon Handle Sterling Silver Christening Cup,excellentRussian Sterling Enamel Silver 84 Vodka Cup Russia Cup 84 With HeadSterling Silver Baby Cup Mug Collectable Signed " Saart " # 81Superb Indian Colonial Sterling Silver Trophy Cup Snake Handles Figures Ca 18601911 Antique Gorham Sterling Silver Arts & Crafts Leather Tankard PresentationOld Tiffany & Company Sterling Silver Vintage Cup 204 Grams 7.2 OzOutstanding Vintage Solid Silver Large Goblet 1972 Hallmarked London Sterling NrDoll House Miniature Sterling Silver Cup By Peter Acquisto W Box Solid Sterling Silver .925 Lunt 2" Demitasse Shot Glass Or Cup "j.h.f." 25 Grams Towle Sterling Silver Baby / Infant Cup W/ No MonogramVintage Sterling Silver Gorham Cup Andrew Tyler Boston Metropolitan MuseumShreve Fourteenth Century Ii Sterling Cup 4.29 T Oz