Intimate dinner parties and holiday feasts are the occasions when antiques lovers revel in displaying their treasured silver collection. You know who you are: Your pulse quickens when you put your silver into a baking soda bath, then buff it until it shines like the top of the Chrysler building.
Silver serving ware is a practical category of antiques and vintage to collect – maybe not every day practical, but practical nonetheless for someone who appreciates a beautifully-set table when hosting elegant dinner parties. What’s more, silver, whether sterling or plate, is a category of antique and vintage finds that a collector can gather over the years and build upon.
Even the princeliest tables were not set with silver until the early 19th century. As Western civilization experienced the Industrial Revolution and the Gilded Age, tables heaved under the weight of silver collections, silently proclaiming one’s wealth. The Victorians suffered from an embarrassment of riches as they created a silver serving utensil for every imaginable sort of food. A single place setting at a formal dinner could have included eight different forks and knives, along with numerous spoons and fancy curiosities such as grape shears, butter picks, bon-bon scoops and ice cream slicers.
SILVER COFFEE SERVICE
This month, GasLamp dealers have polished their best silver to prepare our customers for the extravagance of Thanksgiving and Christmas meals. Newbies can dip their toes in the water by purchasing vintage cutlery à la carte to create a mismatched silverware collection. Serious collectors can find top-drawer pieces, such as this antique tea-and-coffee service with seven pieces ($1,250; Booth T-293). This rare set consists of an after-dinner coffee pot, teapot, pitcher, covered sugar bowl, creamer, waste bowl and handled tray. The beautifully designed and formed bodies are decorated with floral etchings. As was the tradition, a hostess (or servant) used this after-dinner coffee pot to pour strong black coffee 100 years ago.
THE FAMILY SILVER
For the collector who wants to get serious with a true heirloom, this spectacular silverware set includes eight four-piece place settings and three serving pieces, all made of sterling silver ($2,400; Booth B-218). The utensils were designed in the King Richard pattern patented by Towle Silversmiths in 1932 and remain among the most collectible flatware patterns. Designed by Ferdinand Poppenhauser with fine details of scroll and shell work, the pattern was named after King Richard of England. It will infuse any table setting with pomp and grandeur, plus it is a magnificent heirloom to pass down for generations.
GLEAMING SILVER TUREEN
Any tureen is a kitchen’s workhorse, but this 19th-century version arrives at the job with gentility and grace ($345; Booth T-293). This exceptionally fine tureen is designed with side handles, claw feet, oodles of foliate scrolling and a foliate handle on a step-domed cover. The quality and gauge of the silver must be seen to be believed.
ENGLISH TEA SERVICE
Produced by Cheltenham & Co. Ltd. in 1910, this tea-and-coffee service from Sheffield, England, is a stylish starter set that includes a teapot, coffee pot, covered sugar bowl and creamer ($295; Booth B-109). This silver-plated service has a much lower entry price than would an identical four-piece set made of pure silver.
What’s more, this service is most unusual as it includes Bakelite handles on the coffee pot and teapot. Bakelite, the world’s first synthetic plastic, had just been invented in 1907, so this 1910 tea service was modern for its time. The Bakelite handles act as insulators on the teapot and coffee pot so that the handles remain cool to the touch. They also enhance the striking design of this exceptional service.
RUSSIAN TEA BOILER
Once upon a time, this silverplate samovar with lion head handles and claw feet detail would have sat in the center of the table during holiday celebrations, bubbling away ($195; Booth B-109). While ceramic samovars go back several thousand years, brothers Ivan and Nazar Lisitsyn invented a copper version in 1778 in Russia, that nation of enthusiastic tea sippers. Translated into English as “self-boiler,” the samovar boils water via wood or kindling kept in a special compartment inside the kettle. This silverplate samovar is a work of art with decorative and historical significance.
Even if you don’t live like the nouveau riche of the Gilded Age, eating meals that included six courses and all the right forks, collecting silver accouterments for the table is a fascinating hobby. Beyond the thrill of the hunt, the collection itself will earn you a spot in guests’ memories. After all, who could forget the host or hostess who serves butternut squash soup with a silver tureen from the 1800s? Or presents dessert with tea made in a silverplate samovar with lion head handles? Your silver collection can be shiny, memorable and conversation-worthy this Thanksgiving and Christmas – and during every celebration in between. Product photos by David Wariner. Header photo by Annie Spratt for Unsplash.