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

Most watched eBay auctions    

Nice Old Chinese Silver Cocktail Shaker & 6 Cups Dragon Pure Silver Mark 598 GrFabulous, Victorian Silver Pint Tankard, 1862, 350gmAntique Russian Cossack 84 Solid Silver & Niello Cow Horn Stirrup Cup C1950Fine Quality Georgian Silver 1/2 Pint Mug Tankard London 1783 Army Remount CrestEnglish Sterling Tankard 1759 Cows In Pasture 28ozFine Quality Sterling Silver Pint Mug Tankard Wai Kee Georgian Baluster StyleVintage Georg Jensen Sterling Silver Cup Christening Beaker G Albertas DenmarkHeavy Solid Sterling Silver Pint Beer Mug/ Tankard 1958/ 374 G6 Pce Antique Solid Chinese Tackhing Silver Salt Bowls & Peppers & CupsAntique Russian Silver 84 Niello Enamel Cup, Circa 1833American Southern Coin Silver Mint Julep Cup Beaker E. Mead Co St Louis19thc Antique A. Frankfield & Co Ny American Coin .900 Silver Handled Cup MugAsian Cocktail Set Vietnam 900/000 Silver, Shaker, Tray And 8 Cups 1499 G Silver6 Old Sterling Silver Religious Star Of David Judaica/jewish Kiddush Cups Nr YqzFinest Vintage Japanese Sterling Silver 3p Whiskey Tumbler Shot Cup Leather Case1790 Philadelphia Pa George Bardick American Coin Silver Mug Cup Cann 18th C Antique Sheffield Silver Plate Bright-cut Two-handle Trophy Cup Dog Finial VaseSuperb Large Heavy English Antique 1968 Solid Sterling Silver One Pint TankardFine Antique Pair Of French Sterling Silver Coffee Cups Empire Style Around 1900.800 German 1896 Sterling Silver Shot Cups, Plate And Glass Decanter - 135 C28Stunning Victorian Repousse Solid Silver Christening Cup/tankard Sheffield 1885Antique Solid Sterling Silver 2 Handle Chalice Shape Cup Or Trophy Dated 1934Revere Silver Co Early 1900's Sterling Child's Baby Cup/glass Monogrammed H YqzRussian , Cloisonne Enamelled , Solid Silver Cup & Saucer, C1965, 185gm1779 George Smith 18th C English Georgian Sterling Silver Tankard Mug 10 Oz TroyAntique Victorian London Sterling Silver Gilt Goblet Cup By Mappin & Webb C.1887Set 6 Mexican Sterling Silver & Glass Gch Mexico Vintage 3" Cordial Mini GobletsLot Of Sterling Silver Dish Bowl Cup 164 Grams Marked Various Scrap Crafts .925Set Of Three (3) Antique Vintage Russian 875 Silver Vodka Cups Orig Fitted Box19th C. Kentucky Southern Coin Silver Julep Cup: Wolf & Durringer (1859 - 1871)Handsome Large Heavy English Antique Military 1944 Solid Silver One Pint TankardVintage Mint Julep Cup With Horse Head, Sterling Silver By TreesSterling Silver Trophy - Narragansett Cup 1894Stylish Solid Sterling Silver Christening Cup/ Mug 1972/ H 8 CmAntique William Comyns London 1897 Sterling Silver Cup Monogramed 4.7 Oz 133 GPair Exquisite Antique Signed Japanese Sterling Silver Arts & Crafts Shot CupsHallmarked Modernist Sterling Silver Goblet * Hector Miller Design London 1977Russian , Cloisonne Enamelled , Solid Silver Cup & Saucer, C1965, 195gmSolid Silver Pint Tankard, 1959, 316gmEmpire Sterling Baby Cup MintGeorge Iii Style, Solid Silver Pint Tankard, 1962, 353gmGeorge Iii Style, Solid Silver Pint Tankard, 1962, 357gmVintage Antique Solid Sterling Silver Teapot Cup Sheffield 1919Beautiful Antique Victorian E Fairburns Silver Plated Egg Cup Holder And SpoonsVintage Australian Indian Colonial Sterling Silver Christening Cup C.1910English Edwardian Nathan & Hayes Sterling Silver "tudor Cup" Chester 1902 Solid Silver Cup Set Of 4 Liquor Holders. Sheffield 1908. Atkin Brothers.Rare Kewpie Sterling Silver Children's Cup Antique Mathews Nj No Reserve Must CHandsome Large Heavy English Antique 1904 Solid Sterling Silver One Pint TankardVintage Solid Silver Egg Cup With Fixed Saucer - J Dixon & Sons Footed Bowl Paper Cup, Export Solid Silver With Bamboo Relief 184 GrGeorgian Antique Sterling Silver Pair Wine Goblets London 1801 Flutes CupsAntique Russian 84 Standard Solid Silver Engraved Shot Cup/ Goblet / H 5.8 CmSuperb ~ Solid Silver ~ Egg Cup ~ Sheffield 1949 By Emile VinerAntique Russian 84 Standard Solid Silver Goblet/ H 9.4 CmRare Pair Of Sterling Silver Fine Thimble Shot Cups "only A Thimble Full" Antique Webster Co Sterling Silver Ornate Oranges Handled Child's/baby Cup YqzRare W.kerr Sterling Silver Amazing Children's Cup Mug No Reserve Must See Wow!Antique Solid Sterling Silver 2 Handle Trophy Or Cup From London Dated 1924Handsome Large Heavy English Antique 1927 Solid Sterling Silver One Pint Tankard