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    

1849 Antique 19thc Dutch Sterling Silver Hand-engraved Goblet Chalice Cup12 Antique Watrous American Sterling Silver Water Wine Goblet Cups, NrBeautiful Engraved Sterling Silver Vintage 87.35 Dwt. Gorham ? Cup - Ps5677Set 12 Matthews Demitasse Sterling Silver Cup Holders W/ Lenox Inserts C1920Fine Antique Indo Persian Kashmiri Islamic Solid Silver Chalice / Goblet C1890English Sterling Silver Goblet Chalice 1817 18ozAntique Solid Silver Cup Glass Holder Flower Repousse Design 1906 Chester. Rare Dominick & Haff Stunning Repousse Sterling Silver Shaving Mug--no MonoJapanese Medal Set Sacred Treasure Badge Ww2 Army Japan Navy Uniform Cap War PinAntique 1796 18th Century English Sterling Chalice Goblet Wine Beaker Sign Gs ThSolid Sterling Silver Boxed Christening Set Egg Cup Napkin Ring & Spoon 1931Really Old Solid Silver Cup Victorian 1890Set 5 Lenox Porcelain Demitasse Insert Cup Liners W Pierced Sterling Holders AhbNot Scrap 450 Grammes Huge Sterling Silver Chalice Cup GobletExquisite Antique Cartier Sterling Silver Footed Wine Tasting Acorn Handle CupWhitbread Gold Cup Sandown 1987 Solid Silver Horse Trophy Trainers Award GarrardAntique Victorian 1875 Hallmarked Solid Sterling Silver 925 Cup Goblet Trophy?Georgian Sterling Silver ~ Tankard ~ Hallmarked 1781 Richard BealeSterling Silver Mint Julep Cup. John E. Madden Marked!!Russian Solid Silver Cups In Box. Niello Inlay - 875 Marks. 88 GmsCups & Goblets Collection Sterling Silver Used 316grGreat Estate Lot Antique Womens Golfing Sterling Silver Trophy Rose Bowls & CupsSuperb Condition Large Heavy English Antique L1938 Solid Silver One Pint TankardPandora Cup Cake Charm .925 Sterling Silver 790417Tiffany & Co. Sterling Silver Barware Jigger/shot Glass Measuring Cup RareSet 12 Meriden Demitasse Sterling Silver Cup Holders W/ Lenox Inserts C1900English Solid Silver Tankard By Joseph Gloster~birmingham 1936Nib Tiffany & Co Flared Sterling Silver Baby CupDutch Sterling Silver Marriage Cup Wager Cup Birds Fine Chased Lady 8 Inch C18901825 English Sterling Barrel Form Silver Cup Tankard John Henry Charles LiasAntique Solid Silver Cup Glass Holders 1902 London By William ComynsWw2 Japanese Imperial Seamen Relief Assoc. Service Badge Medal Wwii Navy MarinesFrench Sterling Silver Cup & Saucer Henry Gabert, Paris C1875Vintage Hallmarked Solid Silver Egg Cup 33 GramsStunning Large & Heavy Solid Silver Georgian Style Pint Tankard 1959 329 GramsPair Of Antique 19th Century Sterling Silver Spanish Colonial Cups MugsSterling Silver Mixed Lot - Bowl - Gorham Cup & Saucer - Enameled SpoonVictorian Sterling Silver ~ Goblet / Cup ~ Hallmarked 1868 Richards & Brown EcbPair Of Avelos Mexican .925 Sterling Silver 3.5" Mini Goblet Cups 94.5 Grams #2Vintage "reed & Barton" Sterling Silver 2 Ounce Jigger Cup No Monograms NrBeautiful Gothic Antique Victorian 1869 Solid Sterling Silver Wine Port GobletVintage Sterling Silver - Heavy Jewish Grape Cluster 53.4g - Kiddush Cup Cz6101Whiting Sterling Silver Cups Bouillon Lenox Liners 4-12 Pair Of Avelos Mexican .925 Sterling Silver 3.5" Mini Goblet Cups 93.7 Grams #1Antique Wallace Sterling Tea Strainer Over The Cup-art Nouveau Flower DesignVtg Ernst Mahler Mint Julep Cup Johnny Cool Sterling Silver 160 Gram UnweightedAntique Decorated Silver 925 Cup 115 Gram Not Scrap NrVintage Sterling Silver - Heavy Antique Floral Jewish 57g - Kiddush Cup Cz6121Webster Sterling Coffee Cup & Saucer French Liners 4-6 Fabulous Rare Antique Victorian L1880 Gothic Solid Sterling Silver Beaker GobletA Sterling Silver Miniature Trophy Cup Birmingham 1931 James Walter TiptaftAntique Sterling Silver Pierce Decorated Cup Holder From Birmingham Dated 1904Superb Georgian French Sterling Silver Beaker Cup Paris 1773 Maker P N NEnglish Sterling Silver Mug Henry Wm. Curry 1877 11ozAlvin Sterling Silver 6 1/2" Water/wine Goblet Alvin S249 Rare Solid Silver Goblet 1989 LondonAntique English Sterling Silver Compote Or Trophy Cup6 - Mexico Sterling Silver / Glass Cordial Goblet Cups SetVintage Sterling Silver Cup NrAntique Scottish Sterling Silver Horn Hunting Stirrup Cup Beaker-hallmarks 1913