William Frederick Mid-century Modern Sterling & Wood Coffee and Tea Service with Original Tray, Chicago, IL, c. 1960s
This exquisite design is a rare example of fashionable modern American silver of the 1960s. It consists of coffee and tea pots, creamer, sugar, hot milk server, and tray. The beauty conveyed by the unusual shapes and the incorporation of wood and hammered surfaces are feasts for the eyes.
Frederick was "Trained as an aeronautical engineer at both Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology"(1). One can see a space-age approach to this unique design and the influence of his illustrious Danish teacher, Hans Christensen.
Triangular (acute Reuleaux isosceles triangle) shaped vessels with flat tops are beautifully executed, with dramatic handles rising above their bodies. Precise execution of the lids hides the hinges, with the teapot opening from front to back and the coffee and hot milk pots opening from left to right - a unique and fascinating design element.
Cantilevered lid finials appear to make the wood hover above their platforms. Stunning surface hammering is an intentional, decorative effect that creates a shimmering elegance but also conveys its arts & crafts values of showing that the objects were hand-made. The original tray is also stunning with its sterling frame, wooden handles, and insert.
William Frederick (1921-2012) was born in Sycamore, Illinois. After serving in World War II and then his Harvard and MIT studies, he attended a drawing class at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he achieved a master of fine arts degree in 1959.
In the summer of 1958, Frederick studied at the Rochester Institute of Technology under Hans Christensen, a prodigy silversmith at Georg Jensen, before his professorship at RIT. Under Christensen's direction, Frederick created a teapot of this design as his masterwork. It is now in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. However, unlike this service, Christensen forced Frederick to use a precise mirror finish on that pot.
"Although Hans Christensen required the first version to have a highly polished finish, the second version with its hand-hammered finish truly reflects Bill's philosophy: 'My philosophy in making objects involves the human dimensions- the honest expression of the characteristics of the materials involved.'" (2)
This rare service is marked 'HANDWROUGHT STERLING FREDERICK.' The tray measures 21.5 inches across the handles by 14 inches wide. The coffee pot is 9.5 inches high to the top of its handle. The five-piece coffee set weighs 93.25 troy ounces and, along with the tray, is in excellent condition with one good repair to a tray handle.
Jennifer Downs, "The Shape of Progress," in Shaping the Modern: American Decorative Arts at The Art Institute of Chicago, 1917-65, The Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies, Volume 27, No. 2, 2001, p. 103.
Rod Tinkler, "William N. Frederick: Chicago Silversmith Par Excellence" in Silver Magazine, Jul/Aug 2002, pp. 12.
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