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Tiffany & Co: The Snail Vase, 1893 Columbian Exposition Sterling Silver Vase, designed by John T. Curran

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Delightfully whimsical, this imaginative design features various sized snails enveloping the conical-shaped body. Starting at the top, different cast and applied snails cover the rim in assorted positions. The interior of the rim right below the snails is a small bed of seaweed. A plain neck is bordered on its lower side with a row of small shell design. The snails on the body are repousséd and chased. The spiraling shells and bodies are executed with magnificent 3-dimensionality and wonderful details.

Spiral shells are meticulously textured as are the extending snail bodies and tentacles that continue over the neighboring snail shells. The tapered, undulating body dictates the size of the snails. The first row of snails at the top is overlapped by the next row of snails which are the largest. Each successive row gets smaller as the snails conform to their space with the bottom row consisting of just the small shells.  The platform base has snail shells repousséd along its outer, curved edge with spiral lines leading into its interior.

For the Columbian Exposition, Tiffany & Co. made three 10.5-inch "Peruvian" (1) style vases: the Snail Vase, the Terrapin Vase, and the Owl Vase. The Owl Vase was exhibited in the seminal 1987 exhibition: The Silver of Tiffany & Co: 1850-1987 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. (2) According to John Loring in Magnificent Tiffany Silver(2000), the whereabouts of the spectacular Snail Vase was "now-vanished." (3) However, it has descended in the family of the original 1893 purchasers, Lieut.- Col. & Mrs. A. J. Kane.

In 1893 Tiffany's award-winning exhibit, and the silver vases, in particular, were widely admired. Discussing the "Peruvian" Vases, French silversmith André Bouilhet wrote:

From the neck to the foot, heads of the night bird are alternated and diminish in size as the vase shrinks and is elongated. Other objects of analogous form are decorated with snail, turtles, serpents [an incense burner with a rattlesnake strangling a duck] and produce an unforeseen sensation. I admire more Tiffany in these small pieces, full of wit and imagination, than when he executes works of large dimension [i.e., the Magnolia Vase]. (4)

All three "Peruvian" vases can be seen in this photo published in The Illustrated American, the Snail Vase is lower right, second from the end:

 Tiffany & Co. silver at the 1893 Columbian World's Fair, photograph from August 5, 1893 edition of The Illustrated American.

Tiffany & Co. silver at the 1893 Columbian World's Fair, photograph from August 5, 1893 edition of The Illustrated American.

Designed and executed expressly for the Columbian World's Fair of 1893, this piece is a visual and technical masterpiece. (For more about Tiffany & Co.'s exhibition at the fair, see here.) As with most of the other John T. Curran designed vases at the exhibition, the focus is the realistically represented natural world - a style that would develop into American art nouveau.

Tiffany & Co. listed the vase in their catalog to the fair as:

    147. Snail Vase, form Peruvian, snails chased repoussé. (5)

John T. Curran and Paulding Farnham were two young assistants of Edward C. Moore at Tiffany. Both helped at the Paris 1889 exhibition, with Farnham's jewelry designs winning the gold medal. (6) When Moore died in 1891, Farnham took charge of the Jewelry department, and Curran took charge of the silver department, under Farnham's ultimate control. (7) Farnham's work can be seen clearly in the mixed-metal "Viking" and "Pueblo" pieces. Curran, who was highly influenced by Charles Osborne (8) and Charles Grosjean, designed the naturalistic enameled vases and aquatic-inspired pieces at the fair.

This extraordinary vase measures 10.5 inches high and weighs 23.15 troy ounces.  It is marked underneath "TIFFANY & CO./ 11180 T 3165/ STERLING" and below with Tiffany's Columbian Exposition stamp. It is in excellent antique condition.

Provenance: Purchased at the World's Columbian Exposition, 1893, by
Lieut.-Col. and Mrs. Aloysius Jose Kane
By descent in the family.


World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1983


Catalog of Tiffany & Co.'s Exhibit, 1893 World's Columbian Fair

"Tiffany at the World's Columbian Exposition" in The Illustrated American

Magnificent Tiffany Silver


  1. Tiffany & Co., Catalog of Tiffany & Co.'s Exhibit, (New York: Tiffany & Co., 1893), pp 75-76.
  2. Charles H Carpenter, Jr. and Janet Zapata, The Silver of Tiffany & Co: 1850-1987, (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1987), cat. no 48.
  3. John Loring, Magnificent Tiffany Silver, (New York: Abrams, 2001), p. 186.
  4. André Bouilhet in The Jewelers’Review, October 16, 1893, as quoted in Loring, Magnificent Tiffany Silver, p. 186.
  5. Tiffany & Co., Catalog, p 75.
  6. John Loring, Paulding Farnham: Tiffany's Lost Genius, (New York: Abrams, 2000), p. 7.
  7. Loring, Magnificent Tiffany Silver, p. 203.
  8. Loring, Magnificent Tiffany Silver, p. 182.