Tiffany & Co Antique Sterling Silver Japanesque Ice Bowl, New York City, c. 1877
Sterling ice bowls are very rare and this is a striking aesthetic movement example by Tiffany & Co. in their Japanese style of the late 1870's.
The bowl has a wonderfully honeycomb hammered body with an applied molded wire rim. Stunning wisps of engraved sea grass flow sporadically, rising upwards from the base. The grasses display wonderful movement, sometimes crisscrossing and twisting. One even has a snail.
There are three fish applied to the exterior. One swims by himself and two similar fish of same species occupy another area. The details on these fish are stunning.
What is also remarkable about the bowl is the interior. Identical mirror images of all the external decoration is engraved on the interior - an absolutely brilliant and whimsical display of great design and imagination.The splayed, pedestal base has a flat bottom and this whole lower section acts as a reservoir for water. The interior has a pierced liner which fits onto the top of the base. (It is a good replacement liner, see photo.)
In the pictures, not only does one see the remarkable exotic design incorporating foliage and swans, one also sees an engraved blade of grass coming down from the upper body and once it travels to the lower section, is executed in applied relief.
Both the rim and foot rim are marked with French import marks (the little rectangle above the snail). Both the design date of 1877 and the French import marks are interesting.
Tiffany did not keep records of all the pieces sent to the Paris World's Fair of 1878 where they won the grand prize for silver. The few piece that can be documented through photographs and visual inspection are comparable stylistically and have similar dates and import marks. Another possibility is that the bowl was sent to Paris to be sold at Tiffany's store there. Yet another possibility is that it belonged to a wealthy person who imported it later. All intriguing scenarios.
Ice bowls are a wonderful symbol of American ingenuity.
It is easy to forget how important ice was in a world before the refrigerator. Unlike Western Europe, North America produced abundant supplies of clean ice. The clean rivers and lakes along with the cold winters allowed for bountiful ice 'harvesting' in the winter and early spring. Americans developed this resource and created markets for it by exploiting needs in tropical areas.
In the early 19th century, Frederic Tudor and his Wenham Lake Ice Company improved insulating techniques so his ice could be shipped afar to the West Indies and even Calcutta, India. Henry Thoreau mentions the 'harvesting' of ice from Walden Pond.(1) An appendix to the 1880 U. S. census notes that 8 to 10 million tons of ice were harvested annually in the United States.(2)
Wenham Lake Ice became popular in Europe because, unlike old world ice, it was clean enough to actually put in drinking water and other refreshments. Queen Victoria was so delighted with the clean ice in her drinks that the Wenham Lake Ice Company received a royal warrant!(3)
This rare ice bowl is marked underneath 'TIFFANY & CO/ STERLING-SILVER/ 4780 M 9216' (indicating an 1877 design date). Both the base and rim are marked with French import marks. It measures just shy of 7.25 inches in diameter at the top by 5 inches high, weighs 17.50 troy ounces and is in excellent antique condition with, as mentioned above, a replaced liner.
Gavin Weightman, The Frozen-Water Trade: A True Story, (New York: Hyperion, 2003), pp. 169-70
Weightman, p. 231.
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