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

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A masterpiece of nature and whimsy, this imaginative design features various sized terrapins enveloping the conical-shaped body. Inlaid into each of the heads are lines of copper traveling down the terrapin's necks. Four inlaid lines of copper and three on the smallest terrapins add an intriguing visual contrast and an increased level of difficulty in execution.

Starting at the top, various applied terrapin heads peer outwards over the rim. Their outstretched legs clutch the rim as if they are crawling out of the interior. Dense foliage fills the spaces around the rest of the rim. A plain neck is bordered on its lower side with a row of turtle shells with their tails protruding downward.

The terrapins on the body are repousséd and chased. The terrapins, with their protruding heads and tails, hang on with their front legs to the terrapin tails above them. Magnificent 3-dimensionality and wonderful details are seen throughout. The base of the vase and the curved edge of the platform mimics the scutes (terrapin shell sections).

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(in 2000), the whereabouts of the spectacular Terrapin Vase was "now-vanished." (3) However, it has descended in the family of the original 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 Terrapin Vase is on the first shelf second from the right:

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:

145. Terrapin Vase, form Peruvian, terrapins chased, etched and inlaid with copper. (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. 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. (6) Farnham's work can be seen clearly in the mixed-metal "Viking" and "Pueblo" pieces. Curran, who was highly influenced by Charles Osborne (7) and Charles Grosjean, designed the naturalistic enameled vases and sea-inspired pieces at the fair. Collaboration with Farnham on the "Moss-Roses" Vase cannot be ruled out. An original design drawing for the "Magnolia Vase" at the Metropolitan Museum shows Farnham's design work on some floral decoration. (8) Curran is credited with the overall designs for both the 'Magnolia Vase' and the 'Daisy Vase,' the "Moss-Roses" Vase was designed by the same person.

This extraordinary vase measures 10.5 inches high and weighs 23.45 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 and even retains its original gilt interior.

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.