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Tiffany & Co. Parcel Gilt Antique Sterling Ice Cream Service from The Mackay Service, NYC, c. 1878, Exhibited at the Paris 1878 International Exposition

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This amazing ice cream service consisting of the ice cream serving dish and 12 ice cream plates comes from the most important American silver dinner service ever made, Tiffany & Co.'s Mackay Service.  The Mackay Style, so-called by Tiffany & Co., was a combination of chasing and applied work "of Chinese, Japanese, Persian & Arabian character" called by Tiffany & Co. "Oriental." (1)

Perhaps the most engaging part of the design is the prominent legs. Each leg appears to be brush or forest until, upon closer inspection, one notices the elephant's head. The foot of the leg is the elephant trunk above, which, emerging from the forest, is the elephant head with winking eyes as if playing along with the fanciful game.

This serving dish and plates, along with the other platters, plates, and bowls of the whole service, have panels of "Plum, Peony, Pomegranate, Daisy, Poppy, Chrysanthemum, Sweet-Williams, Iris & others beautifully m't't [mounted - or applied] & chas'd [chased] with undergrowth." (2) The interior of the dish is gilded, etched and engraved with exotic foliate and floral decoration which is very similar to the decoration on early "Chrysanthemum" pattern holloware (originally known as "Indian Chrysanthemum").

Tiffany & Co. made two of these ice cream dishes for the Mackay Service; the other is in the collection of the New York Historical Society, see here. The NYHS thinks it is so important they made a recording about it! Listen here.

The ice cream plates feature similar, smaller floral panels and, according to Grosjean, were particularly successful both aesthetically and commercially. They were originally gilded. (3) Twenty-four of these plates were made; the whereabouts of the other 12 are unknown.

Prominently applied to the side panels are a cast and applied "MLM" monogram or cypher on one side and a cast and applied coat-of-arms on the other.

The dinner service ordered from Tiffany & Co. by "Silver King" John Mackay remains singular in its importance to American silver and the most incredible silver service ever made by Americans. Comprising approximately 1,250 pieces, it took Tiffany & Co. over a year and much of their workforce, at some point or another, to create. The service was part of their award-winning display at the 1878 Paris World's Fair.

John Mackay was a partnered owner of the Virginia City, NV mine that included the Comstock Lode, the largest vein of silver ever discovered in the United States. The lode started producing in the early 1870s, and Mackay was exceptionally wealthy by the mid-1870s. The story of Mackay and his wife, Marie Louise, ordering this service, made from silver from their Comstock Lode, is well documented. (4)

For a detailed discussion of the technical and design challenges faced by Tiffany & Co. and their lead silversmith, Charles T. Grosjean, while creating this service, see here.

This outstanding serving dish measures 15 inches in diameter, 6 inches high, and weighs 94.6 troy ounces. It is marked underneath "TIFFANY & CO./ 4878 MAKERS 5635/ STERLING SILVER/ 925-1000" and further engraved "208/5," representing the item and chest number. It also bears the French import mark.  The plates measure 6 inches in diameter and weigh 70.15 troy ounces. They are similarly marked "TIFFANY & CO./ 4880 MAKERS 5635/ STERLING SILVER/ 925-1000" along with an 'ET' French import mark and are engraved with similar item and chest numbers.

The service is in excellent antique condition, with a few minor scratches to the serving dish and plates. The plates were originally gilded, as noted above.

Exhibition:

    1878 Paris Exposition Universelle

Literature:

  • Medill Harvey, ed., Collecting Inspiration: Edward C. Moore at Tiffany & Co., (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2021), pp. 32, 66-67.
  • Margaret Hofer with Deborah Schmidt Bach, Stories in Sterling: Four Hundred Years of Silver in New York, (New York: New York Historical Society, 2011). Their ice cream dish is photographed and discussed on pages 306-07.
  • Charles H. Carpenter, Jr. with Mary Grace Carpenter, Tiffany Silver, (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1978, the other ice cream dish is photographed and described on pages 64-66 in a detailed discussion of the service.
  • Charles H. Carpenter, Jr., "The Mackay service made by Tiffany & Company" in the Magazine Antiques, October 1978, pp. 794-802. The other ice cream dish is photographed and discussed.
  • John Loring, Magnificent Tiffany Silver, (New York: Harry Abrams, 2001), the service is discussed and partly photographed on pages 148-49.

Endnotes:

  1. Charles T. Grosjean, Technical Book, p. 324, Gorham Manufacturing Company Archives, John Hay Library, Brown University.
  2. Technical Book, p. 318.
  3. Charles T. Grosjean, Diaries, Vol. 2, n.p., entry dated April 24, [1878], Gorham Manufacturing Company Archives, John Hay Library, Brown University.
  4. See Charles H. Carpenter with Mary Grace Carpenter, Tiffany Silver, (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1978).