of Small Collectors

article # 27




by Gianmarco Baldini
click on images to enlarge

Japanese Influence in American Silver 1870-1890

In 1853, Commodore Matthew C. Perry, sailed into Tokyo Bay and after a show of force, Perry convinced Japanese authorities to sign the Treaty of Kanagawa on March 31, 1854.
The pact led to significant commercial trade between the United States and Japan, but it also contributed to opening up Japan to other Western nations. Before 1853, for centuries Japan had been a closed society.
The few objects of Japanese art to arrive in Europe, were bought in China. In few years, Japanese objects started to appear in large quantities and people started to visit Japan.
The influence of Japanese art and design grew enormously in those years in Europe and USA. The Japanese style was so original and elegant that it became an huge success in the Western World.
One example was the English designer Christopher Dresser (1834-1904). Dresser arrived in Japan in 1876. He spent four months observing artists, potters and metalworkers and came back to England with a newfound philosophy of design that affected metalwork, furniture, ceramics, textiles, wallpaper and cast iron.
The designs were an instant hit in Europe. In the same time, in the USA, Tiffany and Gorham began to break free of European influence and looked to the East for inspiration.
The Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876, in which a large amount of Japanese crafts were presented to the public for the first time, had an huge influence on the growth of popularity of Japanese Style in USA.
Tiffany's change of heart was directed by their new president and chief designer Edward C. Moore. Edward Moore was a keen orientalist and collector of the Japanese art. He started to experiment not only with Japanese design but also with new tecniques of metalwork influenced by the Japanese crafts.
Silver, copper, brass and gold were used together in the same piece with very elaboate designs. Natural elements like animals and plants were used:
gourd-shaped teapots and coffeepots crawling with insects; pitchers, flasks, and bowls with fish, frogs, crabs, and turtles making their way up their sides.

coffee pot in Japanese style

This is an example of a coffee pot in Japanese style with copper ground applied silver decoration and mounts.
tea set: Tiffany 1877

Another example of a tea set made by Tiffany in 1877 is shown on the left. Here the base surface is hammered silver on which naturalistic elements made in brass, gold and silver have been applied.
silver water pitcher:Gorham 1878

The Tiffany articles produced in this period are marked with an 'M' to recognize the importance of Moore. Tiffany was not the only company producing items with mixed metal techniques. Gorham also produced beautiful items and was often in competition at the International Exhibitions like the one in Paris in 1878. This is an example of the silver water pitcher produced in 1878 by Gorham.
objects made by Whiting Manufacturing Company

Another company, who produced items in this style, was Whiting Manufacturing Company (New York). Below there is an example of objects produced by Whiting. The large water pitcher and the Demi-Tasse Pot are from Whiting (1880-1890), while the small Lighter at the bottom of the picture was produced by Gorham in 1882.
Japanese Style pieces by Tiffany

Other examples of Japanese Style pieces by Tiffany are shown below.

Towards 1890, the shift from oriental-style designs to the fluidity of Art Nouveau was gradual but inexorable and the main companies stopped producing items with mixed metal and they tried to experiment with new techniques like Gorham with 'Martele' silver.

Items in mixed metals from Tiffany, Gorham and other companies are very rare and sought after. They appear occasionally at auctions and they always fetch high prices.


Gianmarco Baldini - 2005 -