Barbour Silver Company Hand Wrought Antique Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Centerpiece, Wallingford, CT, 1904, Retailed by Mermod, Jaccard, St. Louis, possibly sold at the 1904 St. Louis Exposition, signed by chaser Christopher M. Whalen
This exceptional and large centerpiece bowl is a hand chased masterpiece. Barbour Silver Company is mostly known for producing plain silver holloware, flatware and silver plate. However, for a brief period, they also produced some incredibly rare and amazing art pieces of which this centerpiece bowl is the finest we have seen.
At first glance it looks like the famous Martelé line produced by Gorham. The whole piece has been hand-raised and overall hammering covers the surfaces. The domed oval pedestal base has an undulating outer edge. Two unique scenes of intricately chased flowers and leaves are chased to both sides of the base.
Raised from a single sheet, the large bowl has an everted cascading rim with a wavy edge. This wide surface area with its beautifully hammered surface is adorned with spectacularly hand-chased roses and poppies, each with foliage. The three-dimensionality is exquisite.
The scenes on both sides of the rim use the same flowers as used on the base.
The actual bowl section is bulbous and mostly hidden by the overhanging rim. One side is engraved 'AMC' in a lovely script.
The opposite side is engraved '19 - St. Louis - 04'. When we purchased this bowl, we were told that it was purchased at the 1904 Saint Louis World's Fair, the 'Louisiana Purchase Exposition'. The quality and size of the centerpiece support this provenance.
Mermod, Jaccard, the finest jewelers in St. Louis, went all out for their large display at the fair. In fact, they introduced a world's fair special line of silverware, their 'American Beauty' or 'La Rose' pattern in both hollow and flat wares.(1)
Known examples of 'La Rose' are die stamped, primarily machine made and significantly less interesting than this centerpiece.(2) Very little of Mermod, Jaccard's silver at the fair was photographed and we cannot document that this important piece was displayed there. It could have been special ordered at the fair. It is certainly exposition quality.
Engraved underneath is 'Handwrought' below an intertwined 'CW' cypher, the mark of the just discovered important American chaser Christopher M. Whalen.(3)
Just after the turn of the 20th century, the Barbour division of International Silver produced very high end silver for 'the most exclusive jewelry trade'.(4) Some of the pieces were hand wrought and chased in the style popularized by Gorham's art nouveau Martelé line.
A group of these exceptional Barbour Silver Company pieces chased by Whalen are documented by W. Scott Braznell in a Silver Magazine article of January/February 2015:
Whalen's floral chasing is beyond technical and workmanlike. Leaves, blossoms and especially tendrils are made to gracefully flow on the contours of the forms they adorn. The blossoms bulge out with their petal edges defined with deep undercutting. Stamens, anthers and sepals are picked out in fine detail played off the broad surface of surrounding petals.(5)
Of all the pieces documented by Braznell, none approach the exceptional scale and artisanry of this centerpiece. It is, by far, the finest example of Whalen's work known.
This rare centerpiece is marked underneath B.S.C./ STERLING/ 10' and by the famous St Louis, Missouri retailer 'MERMOD & JACCARD JEWELRY CO'. The centerpiece measures 18 inches long by 14.5 inches wide by 6 inches high. It weighs 52.85 troy ounces and is in excellent antique condition.
The St. Louis Republic, October 9, 1904, p. 7.
Private correspondence with Anne Woodhouse, Curator Missouri History Museum, August 2014.
W. Scott Braznell, "Floral Art Nouveau Silver and the Chaser Christopher M. Whalen" in Silver Magazine, January/ February 2015, pp. 20-27.