Art Nouveau Silver: All Sorts Of Whimsy...

By: Carly Hill, Staff Writer • Mar 22, 2013 • 0 Comments

Today, we’ll be delving specifically into the brief time period that we call Art Nouveau as it applies to Silver.  The reason we’re featuring this topic is that McNally Company Antiques currently has the largest private collection of Art Nouveau silver in the United States.  They recently obtained a private collection which hadn’t been seen in 40 years, outside of a private home.  Of the 67 pieces they began with, McNally still has over 60 of these priceless pieces up for grabs.  Even more exciting, these aren’t 67 spoons we’re talking about.  These are large pieces – centerpieces, candelabras, trays, and more.

Art Nouveau was only briefly popular.  It was made between the years of 1890 – 1910 – only a 20 year fad, but a fad that took over the world and influenced all types of art.    

“It was a period when not only silver but all types of art embraced beautiful forms – it did include flowery, beautiful women, waves, fish, butterflies, etc.  It included, in many ways, aspects from earlier periods all incorporated into one with a lot of [Asian] influence,” said Phil Dreis in a video interview.  Dreis owns The Antique Cupboard and is the author of the book “The Warman’s Sterling Silver Flatware: Value and Identification Guide.”

McNally carries a number of Gorham silver pieces as well.  Gorham revolutionized silver in his time.  He took machinery that was being used to make silver pieces and threw it out.  In 1896, Martele became popular.  Silversmith’s started making pieces by hand again – primitively – hand carved.  They used 950 sterling instead of 925 sterling which created a softer look.  A lot of man hours went into this new endeavor, but about 8600 Martele pieces came from it. 

You’ll hear people use the word “whiplash” when describing the art nouveau style.  This came from a quote in Pan Magazine in 1894, describing Hermann Orbist’s wall hanging “Cyclamen.”  The piece was described as having, “sudden violent curves generated by the crack of a whip.”    The characteristic curves of art nouveau pieces are often called whiplash. 

This extravagant, flowery style led to a style that went entirely the other direction – plain and stark.  Art Nouveau Silver is so collectible because of its uniqueness and rarity.  Silver of all sorts, at this time, had motifs of women with the long, flowing hair, angels, cherubs, fairies, sprites, animals, flowers, and all sorts of other whimsy.  Whether your home is a whimsical wonderland or in need of some more frills, art nouveau silver is an elegant way to add some spice. 

The magnificent figural oval centerpiece pictured above is available from The McNally Company Antiques Inc. right here.  There’s plenty more where that came from.  Check out their extensive inventory of art nouveau silver.  Happy Latiquing!