We rarely see such unique and wonderful designs as this extraordinary vase.
Gourd-shaped, the rich purple-red patinated copper body is beautiful with inlaid multi-metal decoration. The top of the vase is fitted with silver trompe l'oeil "drip" decoration that looks like lava flowing down a mountain. This gives the vase a delightful organic and fluid design.
Inlaid into the copper body are rows of "diaperwork" and lozenge decoration that are partly covered by the silver drips. The inlay includes gold and a special silver mixture with a wonderful grayish hue that resembles pewter. (1)
Even more remarkable is the pure silver inlay lower in the body. This inlay is done in an irregular "spatter" pattern and occurs in four principal areas. The deep gray-black of the pure silver contrasts and complements the purple-red of the copper and the grayish hues of the inlaid silver.
Technically, inlaying pure silver into the copper in a detailed pattern such as this is a difficult process likely involving masking areas, removing copper with an acid bath, then electro-depositing the silver in the voids. At this time, Tiffany & Co. was experimenting with this electronic process, trying different battery powers, different solutions, and various sized electronic nodes at different times. (2)
Charles T. Grosjean developed the trompe l'oeil "drip" decoration used on this vase in late 1878/ early 1879. For a detailed discussion of the vase's style and metallurgical achievements, see here.
Both aesthetically and technically, this vase is an incredible work of art. Its unique design could only be accomplished by Tiffany with their inspired nature-oriented design and experimental use of metal combinations to create new medleys of color.
This amazing vase is marked underneath 'TIFFANY & Co/ 5369 MAKERS 510/ STERLING-SILVER/-AND-/ OTHER-METALS/ PATENT APPLIED FOR/ 950'. Beautifully engraved on the neck "SRH December 28th, 1883," it measures 6.25 inches in diameter by 11.5 inches high and is in very good antique condition with some scratching from use, and some wear to the copper patination.
This description has been updated with the kind assistance of Associate Curator Medill Higgins Harvey and the Department of Object Conservation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
This is likely "Solder #1", see Charles T. Grosjean, Diaries, Gorham Mfg. Company Archives, John Hay Library, Brown University.
Grosjean, Diaries, Gorham Mfg. Company Archives, John Hay Library, Brown University.