A Study in Silver
Fine Silver in Rago’s October 2017 Great Estates Auction
6 October 2017
Silver, prized for its beauty and malleability, is one of the first metals discovered and used by humans. Silver objects dating ca. 4000 BC have been found in Greece and Anatolia (modern Turkey).
Rago's Great Estates Auction on Saturday, October 21 features a study in silver from some of the world’s most respected makers, including Tiffany & Co., Gorham, Buccellati and Georg Jensen. Explore the history and significance of some of these lots below.
The Gorham Manufacturing Company introduced Martele silver to great acclaim at the 1900 Paris Exhibition. Gorham’s Martele silver is hand-wrought in limited quantities, contains a higher standard of silver than sterling and often features extensive chased decoration - making it both costly and rare. These 15 Martele plates were created on commission in 1917 for Harry Ford Sinclair, founder of the Sinclair Oil Company. Other tycoons of the early 20th century, including William Randolph Hearst and Helena Rubenstein, also dressed their tables with this prized silver.
Mokume-gane (or, simply, Mokume) is a metal working process originating in 17th c. Japan, first used to create exquisite bladed weapons. Metalsmiths would hammer, fold and laminate layered sheets of gold, silver and other metals into a single material. The result was a fused sandwich of alloys, called a billet, which closely resembles the organic ‘swirl’ of wood grain.
The great Edward C. Moore, jewelry design director and head of the silver workshops at Tiffany & Co. from 1851 to 1891, owned several examples of traditional Japanese mokume. In the late 1870’s he and his silver artisans mastered a proprietary method of mokume production. Early examples of Tiffany's use of mokume were typically restrained and minimal, making this example, with its all-over surface pattern, particularly rare.
Today a third-generation, family owned firm, Buccellati was founded by Mario Buccellati in 1904. He opened his first store in Milan, but quickly expanded to Rome and Florence. As Buccellati’s fame grew, his designs caught the attention of the era’s great and wealthy, including Pope Pius XII and poet Gabriele D’Annunzio.
Works by Buccellati are most notable for their richly detailed textures; Buccellati craftsmen engrave intricate patterns and designs across nearly every metal surface of each piece. Lot 1201 is an impressive example of Buccellati craftsmanship in a highly-desirably swan form.
Lot 1381 features an extensive French silver and glass toilet service from the late 19th century, certainly owned originally by an extremely wealthy or aristocratic family. It’s quite unusual to see a set this large still intact after well more than a century. The striking pitchers, with their large bold lion form handles, make this set significant.