| By Barrymore Laurence Scherer

Arts and crafts silver

April 23, 2009  |  Old silver is a classic collecting field, one that combines the aesthetic pleasures of imaginative design, fine workmanship, and history. In the often hotly competitive field of American silver, the latest area to fire the acquisitive imagination seems to be the arts and crafts style.  

Origins and style
The idealized image of medieval craftsmen lovingly, indeed religiously, producing works of art by hand greatly influenced the production values in the arts and crafts movement workshops of the late nineteenth century. Whether these shops were producing silver, furniture, ceramics, textiles, or jewelry, handcraftsmanship was held up as a healthy antidote to mass production. But while the designs themselves frequently had visual ties to medieval ideas—stylized floral motifs inspired by illuminated manuscripts and intricate patterns adapted from Celtic artifacts—by the heyday of the arts and crafts movement, from the 1890s through the 1920s, motifs derived from American Indian, Hispanic American, and American colonial design were also being filtered through a contemporary lens.

Indeed, one reason that arts and crafts silver is so appealing is that its combination of historical and modern sensibilities gives the pieces enormous versatility as decorative objects.

Collecting arts and crafts silver
Because the influence of the arts and crafts movement absorbed so many American and English influences and lasted for at least four decades, collectors can follow several routes toward assembling a collection. You can focus on a particular genre or form—flatware, hollowware, candlesticks, for instance; or you can collect purely decorative pieces; or you might seek out desk and library furnishings such as inkstands, picture frames, and paper knives. You could also focus on a particular decade of the movement—the 1890s or 1900s, for instance—or on particular makers or designers, such as the group that worked for Chicago's Kalo Shop, established in 1900. Instead of specializing, you can, of course, become a generalist and let destiny guide your hunt.

The best pieces of arts and crafts silver by the best-known craftsmen now command prices upward of $10,000. An excellent example is a pair of American silver condiment dishes offered by the silver dealers Spencer Marks of Southampton, Massachusetts (Fig. 1). Based on a design of about 1900 by Charles Robert Ashbee, the British architect, designer, silversmith, jeweler, and founder (in 1888) of the Guild of Handicraft, they were produced around 1905 by Marcus and Company, the prestigious New York jeweler and retailer whose mark they bear.
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[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi

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