Thursday, March 10, 2011

Silver Desire: A George V English Sterling Sugar Bucket on the Brink of War


Recently I found a gorgeous English sterling sugar bucket with a deep red purplish hand blown glass liner.  The piece is hallmarked London 1914 and was made by Goldsmiths and Silversmiths Co. Ltd. a large retail jeweler and silversmith established in 1880 at 112 Regent Street in London.  In 1898, the firm converted to a limited liability company and the name became Goldsmiths and Silversmiths Co. Ltd.


P1000410(1) Hallmarks:  Maker’s mark, lion passant to indicate sterling, leopard head to indicate London, date letter “t” to indicate 1914.

The sterling cage of the bucket standing on 4 delicate curved feet is comprised of several motifs.  All have lovely incised decoration highlighting and enhancing their silhouette.  The front of the sugar bowl features an empty shield cartouche which was intended fro the monogram of a potential owner, but here is still blank.  On either side of the shield are large covered classical urns with handles.  Swirling foliage attaches these 3 components.  The back of the sugar bowl (opposite the cartouche) displays a bow with a quiver of arrows.  On either side of this motif are again a pair of classical urns as in the front of the piece.





When I first acquired the sugar bowl, it was around Valentine’s Day and the color of the glass, the bow and arrows and the bowl’s function to deliver sweetness made me think of that holiday with its dominant red color and Cupid shooting arrows into those individuals looking for love.

Yet, as I looked at the piece the connotations of its denotations changed for me.  This change of feeling was precipitated by its assay date of 1914 which is of course the year that The Great War (so-called before the more extreme horrors of World War II because no one could imagine a greater catastrophe) started and Europe was plunged into a bloodbath until 1918.

Now, the shield cartouche and the bow with its quiver of arrows became martial symbols of war, not love, the urns became funerary in nature commemorating the millions who died in the trenches and elsewhere and the deep red of the sugar bowl became their split blood.  The blank, unmonogrammed space of the shield cartouche now seemed  a fitting epitaph for those individuals who died in the war.

It is fascinating to me how a simple, gorgeous object can conjure up so many images beyond its function and aesthetic.  It would be interesting to research English silver production during the war to see how the war influenced or did not influence style, form and ornamentation, of course taking into account what restrictions the war put on that very manufacture.

In my fantastical imagination, this sugar bowl is in a small way a response to the war and a vestige of the 19th century.  1914 was not only the start of The Great War, but also the true ending of the 19th century whose ideals, assumptions and desires were obliterated by the war, ushering in new artistic movements which rejected, transformed or redeployed the classical ideals and forms of the past in response to their own historical moment after the war.

This sugar bowl is perhaps a small monument to the war and its dead, but it is in another sense the final expression of the 19th century and a whole way of life ended by the events of 1914.  I love this piece not only for its style, form and ornamentation, but also for its connotations of requiem for the dead of war and nostalgia for a dead century.


A note to readers…

I must apologize dear readers for the dearth of posts lately on The Great Within.  New and continuing obligations in the real world have left me little time to ruminate here.  Hopefully, more regular posting will be coming in the future.  In the meantime, use the new search function to explore past essays.

Best, K.


  1. I hope you saw the recent exhibit at the Guggenheim, "Chaos and Classicism" tracing artistic movements in Britain and Europe from WWI to II. The classical and military elements of this luscious sugar bowl seem perfectly illustrative of the exhibit's thesis; the strong pull of the Classical period, re-imagined in times of upheaval and horror.
    My, I enjoy your blog! Keep writing.

  2. Thank you Suzanne for your perceptive comments. I did indeed see that show and it was truly wonderful. In writing this post, it was definitely on my mind particularly when I said how classical ideals were after the war rejected, transformed and redeployed. You had Dada and photomontage, Surrealism and of course Neue Sachlichkeit and the like that redeployed classical vocabulary, as did Picasso as a return to order after the war to in a sense overcome its chaos and destruction. Of course, too this classicism was deployed politically as well in Italy and Germany to dire effect.

    Thank you again for your kind words, K.

  3. This beautiful sterling sugar bucket, if used to describe the Valentine's Day. It seems kind of a sense of constraint.