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    

.800 German 1896 Sterling Silver Shot Cups, Plate And Glass Decanter - 135 C28Large Heavy Georgian Style Solid Sterling Silver Pint Tankard, 514g, Ww, 1975St Pauls Cathedral Royal Wedding Solid Sterling Silver Gilt Goblet, London 1981Ely Cathedral Cased Heavy Pair Solid Sterling Silver Gilt Goblets, 1041g, 1973Antique Victorian Sheffield 1860 Sterling Silver Engraved Christening Cup MugSuperb Condition Large Heavy English Antique 1977 Solid Silver One Pint TankardSet Russian Soviet 916 Silver Gilt Enamel Cups & Saucers Spoons 402 Gr 14.2 OzSmart Solid Sterling Silver Pint Beer Mug/ Tankard 1944/ H 12.5 CmAntique Chinese Solid Silver Bamboo Design Cup By Wang Hing - Hong KongExceptional Georgian Large Ornate Solid Sterling Silver Beer Jug / Tankard, 1774Vintage Solid Silver Hallmarked Small Toasting Goblets X 6English Sterling Cup Hunt Or Stirrup Cup Horse 16ozInternational Silver Sterling Goblets 4 Lord SaybrookWeighty Sterling Silver Tankard - London 1905 - Engraved During 1906 - 7.80ozPretty Antique Hand-engraved Solid Silver Christening Mug/ Cup 1909/ H 8.1 Cm4 Beautiful Black Starr & Gorham Sterling Silver Mint Julep Cups 5" 517.0gAntique Gorham 1873 Sterling Silver Goblet / Trophy Cup - 7.60 Troy Ounces Gorgeous Antique French Sterling Silver Coffee Cup & Saucer Rococo St. C.1890sRussian Enamel Sterling Silver 88 Cup Holder ,russia Tea Holder 152,8 Gr8 Sterling Silver 84 Russian Vodka Cups Engraved Design - Nr!!Wallace Sterling Goblets Set Of Three Excellent 5p Set Finest Signed Japanese Arts & Crafts Sterling Silver Sake Tea Cups JapanVintage Lot (2) Sterling Silver Manchester Mint Julep Cups Crown & Cross 310.9 GVintage Sterling Silver Mint Julep Cup Manchester Sterling Crown & Cross 147.1 GVintage International Royal Danish Sterling Silver Bulbous Large 9 Cup TeapotSmart Solid Sterling Silver Christening Mug/ Cup 1926/ H 7.7 CmVery Old Imperial Russian 84 Silver Cup Kidush Cup, 19th CenturySterling Silver Cordial Goblets Cups Anheuser Bush A Monogram 261.3g Set Of 6Vintage Heavy Solid Sterling Silver Christening Cup, 143g, Harrods, London 1935Antique Silver Pint Tankard/mug Georgian Style Sheffield 1935 – P Ltd 326gFine International Sterling Silver Mint Julep Cup 122 GramsEgg Cup Sterling Silver Birmingham 1939Antique Silver Pint Tankard/mug Georgian Style Birmingham 1937 – Turner SimpsonRussia Vodka Cup , Sterling Silver 84 Russian Enamel Cup 76,2 GrQuality, Solid Silver Wine Goblet, 1962, 313gmAntique Chinese Export Sterling Silver Cup Beaker Glasses With Tray 19th C.Antique French All Sterling Silver Cups & Tray Liquor Set 7pc Rococo St. C.1900sReed & Barton Francis I Silver Coffee Urn Buffet Dinner Server 36 Cup Russian Vodka Cup.,875° Silver.1946-1958 (nn242)Vintage Walker & Hall Silver Plate Childs Cup / Mug - Edwardian ?Mint Julep Cup Eberle Prata 900 Silver! Engraved Dmv?! Please Look!12 X Job Lot Presentation Trophy Cups 2 X Solid Silver & 10 X Silver Plated EpnsVintage International Royal Danish Sterling Silver Large 9 Cup Teapot Coffee PotAntique Chinese Sterling Silver Shot Beaker Cup Goblet Set On Tray 19th CenturyVintage Estate Sterling Silver Mexican Taxco Snr Set Of Four Shot Glasses Cups!Mixed Lot 6 Shreve Towle Webster Sterling Silver 458 Grams Cups / Shot GlassesAntique Sterling Silver Egg Cup Rare Estate Find Rams Head Footed 72.5 GramsSterling Silver, Saart Bros, Baby Cup, No Monogram, No ReserveSterling Silver Hallmarked Egg Cup.4 Rare Gorham Sterling Silver Goblets No MonogramLarge Italian Silver Trophy Cup / Goblet Ghq Sniping School Italy 1918English Sterling Cup 17th Century Style 3-6Persian / Islamic Pair Of Solid Silver Coffee / Tea Cups In Sterling - Hand MadeFine Quality Boxed Set Of 3 Silver Goblets.wakely & Wheeler. London, 1976 Gorham #272 Single Sterling Silver Goblet, 1 Pc - 185 GramsEnglish Sterling Cup 17th Centuury Style PantheonExcellent Vintage Sterling Silver Tankard 1978, Francis HowardHuge Lot Sterling Silver 400 Grams Jewelry Spoons Cup Scrap Or Not L@@k!Antique Sterling Silver Christening Cup/beaker - London 1905 - Edward BarnardEnglish Sterling Cup 17th Century Style Tumbler