At the Pier Antique Show in November I was reintroduced to a wonderful antique dealer, Sarah Eigen, who deals in 19th century decorative arts especially aesthetic pieces in pottery, silverplate and brass. In the past I had bought from her a swell black transferware plate in the Sado pattern circa 1879-1881 which features a border design of Asian children playing a board game, along with butterflies and peonies. I also purchased from Sarah a pair of silverplate sugar tongs in an early Aesthetic pattern called Brilliant that was introduced by Reed and Barton in 1869.
When I bought the Sado plate, Sarah kindly invited me to her apartment to see her Aesthetic transferware and silverplate collection which was vast and superb. I learned so much that afternoon and it is always lovely to spend time with someone who shares your collecting passion.
At the Pier Show, I added to my Aesthetic silverplate collection and acquired from Sarah a gorgeous creamer and lidded sugar in very clean condition by one of the ubiquitous Rogers manufacturers- Rogers Smith & Company. The pair probably date to circa 1877-1880 or so. I learned from Sarah that the applied circular foot was indicative of that 1870 period rather than a piece of holloware on feet which is more in keeping with the style of the 1880’s. Also, the clear influence of Japanese art on the pair suggests a date after the US Centennial Exhibition of 1876 in Philadelphia where a lavish Japanese pavilion featured the arts of Japan and fostered “The Japan Craze” which spread throughout the United States and influenced silver styles especially in plate.
Both the creamer and lidded sugar feature incised decoration indicative of the Aesthetic period in its love of nature and the influence of Japanese art, particularly its metalwork which often depicted flora and fauna. On each side of the sugar and creamer, there is a flock of 3 birds, a spray of leaves which may be fern fronds or laurel leaves and a stylized pine tree with lovely and intricate detailing to the bark. The elements are asymmetrical in their layout which is also a characteristic of Japanese art and the Aesthetic style.
Below the pine tree is a stylized decorative geometric band that could also be understood as a garden wall from behind which the stylized pine tree emerges. The flock of 3 birds appear to be flying to alight on this tree. This band is reminiscent of the borders found in English Aesthetic transferware which was a strong influence on American Aesthetic silverplate design. Here are 3 examples of English Aesthetic transferware pottery in my collection whose geometric border designs are similar in feel and appearance to the Rogers Smith sugar and creamer although slightly later in date. These border patterns on the transferware and the band on the sugar and creamer may also have been influenced by Japanese textile designs of the period, yet the transferware seems to be the paramount influence.
The handles on the sugar and creamer have an carved look as if the handle was cast and then metal was cut away to reveal and create flowers, leaves and vines in relief. The flowers seem similar to dogwood and against a stippled ground- a feature reminiscent of Japanese metalwork although the top of the handle features an acanthus leaf which is a classical motif.
The decorative band around the top of the pair also features leaves interspersed with what resemble stylized flowers and indeed they are meant to be petals or leaves based on honeysuckle or palm leaves. This motif is called an anthemion and was used commonly in classical art and architecture. This ornamentation relates to the acanthus leaf at the top of the sugar and creamer handles.
Obviously, this decorative die-rolled band of anthemia on the sugar and creamer are in contrast to the main Aesthetic elements of the pair. (Die-rolled- a sheet of metal which has been passed through patterned steel rollers. ) It makes me think that perhaps that the form of this sugar and creamer was an older model that had an overall classical design that this decorative strip would have originally complemented. When fashions changed and “The Japanese Craze” began, the company redesigned the main decoration of the sugar and creamer, but left other elements such as the die-rolled band of anthemia in the design perhaps to save costs. It is an intriguing thought and speaks to the nature of silverplate in which the dies (the forms that made the shapes and some decorative elements like die-rolled bands) are valuable and were not just discarded when styles changed. These dies were used over and over again and even sold between different companies so that similar forms often appear from different makers.
The holloware division of Rogers Smith began in 1862, so it is possible that this sugar and creamer represents an older form. Another silverplate maker, Meriden Britannia, bought this holloware division in 1863. And the mark on the pair is after 1865 when the division was moved to Meriden (and of course obviously later by its Aesthetic style as well.) So, it is possible that this Rogers Smith creamer and lidded sugar is a former model with a new Aesthetic design. A footnote perhaps but fascinating to me as a collector.
Or the mishmash of styles, motifs etc. may just be an example of Victorian eclecticism and art historical interest. For example, the finial of the sugar lid looks like a stylized lotus blossom which would be an example of the Egyptian Revival. (The Egyptian Revival is usually dated from 1820-1850, but silver examples with Egyptian motifs appear long after that date into the 1880’s. And of course, there was another great Egyptian revival after 1922 when King Tut’s tomb was found by Harry Carter.) So, yet another style enters the mix, though I would argue that the design as a whole works together despite the stylistic dissonance.
I am looking forward to using this sugar and creamer at my next silver dessert soirée along with my other Aesthetic china, holloware as well as flatware and amuse my guests with the word anthemion.