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American Silver – Louis Comfort Tiffany and John Gorham
American silver has long reflected the diverse background of this country. In colonial times, silversmiths emigrating from England, France and the Netherlands, influenced local styles and production methods. Today, high retail and auction prices reflect the fact that early silver is very rare.
As America prospered, the quantity and quality of silver produced also grew. By 1861, a million and a half ounces of silver had been extracted from mines in California and Nevada. Prior to the mid-19th century discovery of vast silver deposits in the western states, much of the silver available came from Mexico and other countries, and the cost of the raw material remained relatively high. Labor saving innovations in silver fabrication that had begun in the Federal Period could not be fully utilized for mass production until the cost of the metal itself came down enough to attract the broader audience of middle class consumers.
From the 1860s, the level of skilled labor increased, designs became more elaborate and the consumer market expanded. In the latter part of the century, much of the finishing work was still done by hand, such as chasing, engraving, applied ornamentation, and etching, which resulted in silver items of wonderful quality.
The silver business grew from a cottage industry to a major contributor to the U.S. economy. At their peak, firms like Tiffany, Gorham, Reed & Barton and Whiting employed thousands of unskilled labourers in centres such as New York, NY, Providence, RI, and Taunton, MA. In the west, Shreve & Company flourished in San Francisco. The large volume of high quality silver that was produced during the last quarter of the 19th century is also noteworthy. During the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th and the early 20th century small companies such as the Kalo Shop in Chicago and Arthur Stone in Boston produced excellent quality, beautifully hand-crafted pieces.
People will argue which company produced the finest silver. Some will say Gorham’s Martelé is the best because of its limited production and that it was all hand-made by the finest silversmiths of the day. Others will say Tiffany, because of its quality and design. There were many other companies represented during the great age of American silver production, such as Wallace, Towle, Samuel S. Kirk and International Silver. The one thing they all have in common today is that their prices on the secondary market have increased and will continue to do so.
Louis Comfort Tiffany
Danish Silver – Georg Jensen
Danish silver achieved success in the mid to late 18th century, as western industrialization reached Denmark. As the manufacturing process became more straightforward, the silver industry in the city of Copenhagen flourished.
After the Trade Act of 1862, which relaxed business regulations, silversmiths became more independent and established their own shops. In 1904, George Jensen opened his workshop, designing small jewelry pieces from silver and semi-precious stones. Nature inspired much of his designs, which often depicted small sculptures of flowers, insects and animals.
Demand for his exceptional product increased and Jensen expanded into hollowware. In 1910, Jensen won the gold medal at the World Exhibition in Brussels. In 1925, he was awarded the Grand Prix at the Paris World's Fair and again in 1929 at the World’s Fair in Barcelona and in 1935 at the World’s Fair in Brussels.
To this day, his designs are among the most sought after in the world of silver.