Gilded Age Flatware

Tiffany & Co.'s Chrysanthemum Pattern

Shippokuwaisha's [sic] exhibit, Japanese section, Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, 1876. Photo courtesy of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Designed in 1880 by Tiffany’s head of silverware, Charles Grosjean, Chrysanthemum was one of the most extensive and expensive flatware patterns Tiffany ever made. It was not just heavier than other patterns, but required an immense amount of labor and finishing for each piece. Full services easily surpassed many hundreds of pieces, and a complete flatware and table service cost as much as a lifetime’s wages for a middle class working American. As was the case with much of the decorative arts and furniture of the period, the pattern was inspired by Japanese aesthetics owing to the craze for all things Japanese which swept through America and Europe during the Gilded Age in response to the Japanese exhibit at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876.

The chrysanthemum holds special importance in Japanese culture as the flower associated with the royal family, and Grosjean’s rich, dense design elegantly overlaps the flowers and buds against a foliate background resulting in luxurious flatware affordable to only the very elite of society. Chrysanthemum was a top seller until the Great Depression forced the company to retire it in 1934, though due to its popularity and desirability it was later reintroduced and remains in production to the present day.