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Whiting - The Bowers/ Taft Family Aesthetic Movement Sterling Silver and Mixed-Metal Tête-à-tête Tea Service, c. 1887


An outstanding example of American aesthetic movement silver in the Japanese taste, this rare tête-à-tête service is a great example of the exceptional work produced by Whiting of New York City. Based on the form of ancient traditional Japanese iron tea kettles, this service features textured surface decoration resembling woven bamboo, also a traditional Japanese design. Each piece is further decorated with fine applied decoration of peonies, bamboo and grape/ grape vines.

The quality of the design and decoration can clearly be seen in the handle of the tea pot, where the woven bamboo decoration is continued as faux (completely unnecessary) insulation when ivory insulators do the real insulating. Handles on the sugar bowl and cream jug resemble bound bamboo.

Tête-à-tête tea services are the rarest of the form. While most tea drinking was a social activity during the 18th, 19 and 20th centuries, the tête-à-tête service was meant for the very personal service of tea with only one other, with all the accompanying personal intimacies.

This beautiful tea service is marked underneath with Whiting's trademark, 'STERLING", and the model number '462E'. It is monogrammed underneath 'LBW' for Louise Bennett Wilson. Together, the pieces weigh a fine 24.65 troy ounces and it is in very good/ excellent condition with light wear. One small section of the bamboo stalk on the sugar bowl has been well restored.

Provenance: Louise Bennett Wilson married Lloyd Bowers on 7 September 1887 -this was most likely a wedding present. Lloyd Bowers was an important lawyer and Yale schoolmate of President William Howard Taft who asked him to become Solicitor General of the United States upon his election in 1908. (He was a very successful Solicitor General, winning 13 of the 14 cases he argued before the Supreme Court.)

Their only child, a daughter they named Martha Wheaton Bowers, was born on 17 December 1891. She inherited the service. Martha W. Bowers was educated at the Sorbonne in Paris and married Robert A. Taft, the eldest son of President Taft in 1914. Later, Robert A. Taft would become the famous U. S. Senator from Ohio.
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