Tiffany & Co Antique Sterling and Mixed Metal Tea Caddy in the Japanese Taste, c. 1880
This exquisite tea caddy features silver, copper and mixed metal appliqués including mokume around the globular body with detachable cover. The fully integrated naturalistic design encompasses the entire piece. This tea caddy features an applied twisting gourd vine with leaves creeping around the body
In one section, a brass and copper gourd hang from the vine. Another scene has a single copper gourd hanging down from under a leaf. In another, perched on a large leaf, is a stunning dragonfly executed with a copper body and brass wings.
Below this dragonfly are a pair of gourds. One is executed in copper and the other is stunning mokume.
Mokume is the process of layering various metals together to create a unique design of metals forging irregular shapes resembling wood grain. The work is exceedingly difficult to execute and extremely rare.
The removable cover has an applied dragonfly with silver wings. Also on the edge of the cover is an applied butterfly with a copper body and mokume wings.
All these elements are presented on a spot-hammered surface that reinforces the beauty and design of this work of art. This design must have been a favorite of Charles T. Grosjean, Tiffany's great designer and shop superintendent, as he sketched an image of it next to a sketch of the Conglomerate Vase in one of his diaries. (See last image.)
Tiffany's exhibit at the 1878 Exhibition Universelle in Paris was an artistic triumph. Among their many prizes, Tiffany & Co. won the Grand Prize for silverware. At their display, a Japanesque water pitcher of mixed metal on a hammered background design was widely acclaimed and its image was reproduced in publications throughout the world.(1)
The Japanese style developed by Edward C. Moore at Tiffany evolved dramatically in the couple years before the 1878 exposition. While the earlier pieces are engraved with diverse Japanese elements, later pieces include applied mixed metal elements and comprehensive naturalistic designs that integrate the entire piece on a boldly hammered background.
Tiffany was the first American firm to win the grand prize for silverware and their silver in this style captivated the audience at the 1878 exhibition, highlighting Tiffany's, and America's emergence as a creative artistic power.
AsThe New York Timesnoted of their native firm's achievement:
[Tiffany's] award of a grand prize, the highest of all recompenses of goldsmiths' and silversmiths' work, showed the appreciation of foreigners for American taste and industry. The specialty of this house seems to be a combination of silver and copper alloy, with inlaid enamel work, after the fashion of the Japanese, whose secret has been discovered and improved upon by our countrymen. The metallic enamels used for small articles, such as forks and spoons, the repoussé sculptures, beautifully modeled, the incrustations of metal upon metal, or of metal upon wood, form a style of goldsmiths' work entirely novel of great artistic value….A victory equal to this has never before been recorded.(2)
This outstanding container measures 4.5 inches high by 3.75 inches in diameter and is marked underneath 'TIFFANY & CO./ 4824 M 4575/ STERLING SILVER/ -AND-/ OTHER METALS/ 119'. It weighs 10.15 troy ounces and is in excellent antique condition. Underneath, unseen, is an original 'NR' monogram.
Charles H. Carpenter with Mary Grace Carpenter,Tiffany Silver, Rev. Ed. (San Francisco: Alan Wofsy Fine Arts, 1997), p. 166.
'More American Triumphs: Successful Exhibitors at the Paris Show' inThe New York Times, September 15, 1878, page 5.
Also see Magnificent Tiffany Silver by John Loring for a detailed discussion of Edward C. Moore's contribution to Tiffany's silver.