null
Advanced Search

Tilt-Top Table

On view

Tilt-Top Table

Retailer: Tiffany & Company (active New York, New York, 1837-present)

Date: 1885-1893
Medium: Electroplated silver over copper, mahogany
Dimensions:
Overall: 29 1/2 x 29 1/4 x 23in. (74.9 x 74.3 x 58.4cm)
Signed: stamped at top of base (only visible when table is tilted upward): 'TIFFANY & Co. / MAKERS'
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 93.29
Label Text
Nineteenth-century metal furniture in any style is rare, and silver or silver-plated furniture is even less common. This table was designed by Frank Shaw for Tiffany & Co.'s display at the World's Colombian Exposition in 1893. Expositions offered opportunities for artists and companies to showcase their most fashionable items to thousands of international visitors. On this table the repoussé design-where the metal is worked from the back-illustrates a mastery of silver craftsmanship.

ATD

American silver furniture is extremely rare. Tiffany & Company featured this table in its display at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Although chiefly known for its fine sterling silver, Tiffany & Company began offering electroplated items in the 1850s; it was not until after the Civil War, however, that the firm began to promote this aspect of its business. The MWPI table is electroplated silver over copper, and it is the most ambitious piece created by the company using this process.

The elaborate floral decoration on the table is executed in repoussé, a form of relief chasing. Undulating ferns, roses, forget-me-nots, morning glories, chrysanthemums, daisies, dogwood, and numerous other blossoms adorn the tabletop. The Jeweler's Review (Oct.1893) described the design as "a veritable battle of the American flora, in which battalions of roses, vines, buds, ferns and others of the horticultural kingdom are scattered all over the field."

ATD

Text Entries

In 1837 Charles L. Tiffany founded Tiffany & Company as a stationery and fancy goods store. As the country's economy   expanded, he adapted his merchandise selection to meet the demand   for luxury goods. Although chiefly known for its fine sterling silver, Tiffany & Company began offering electroplated  items in the 1850s; it was not until after the Civil War, however that the firm began to promote this aspect of its business.(1) The company maintained its reputation for high-quality wares in all aspects of its work, including its plated goods.

In 1868 Charles Tiffany went into partnership with Thomas Shaw, a talented silversmith knowledgeable in the art of electroplating. Shaw was joined a few years later by C. C. Adams, and the company's name became Adams, Shaw & Company.(2) In 1877 the business moved to Newark, New Jersey. With the departure of Adams in 1881, the name became Thomas Shaw Silversmiths. By 1883 Shaw's business had been absorbed into Tiffany's, and all plated wares were produced in the New Jersey workshop.

The MWPI table is electroplated silver over copper and, using this process, is the most ambitious piece executed by the company.(3) The table was part of Tiffany's extensive exhibit of electroplated items at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 (fig. 36) (4) Work on this table began many years prior to the exposition. According to The Jeweler's Review , "The table was designed and partly chased by the late Frank Shaw, a son of Mr. Thomas Shaw.... but the young man died without completing [it] and it was finished in time for the [Chicago] fair by other chasers in the shop."(5) Frank Shaw died in 1885, which indicates that the table had been in production for nearly a decade.(6) The MWPI table probably was intended for the 1889 exposition, but Frank Shaw's death precluded its inclusion.

In a catalogue of Tiffany's exposition exhibit, the MWPI table is listed as "Table. Ornamental Table, richly chased all over with flowers, vines, ferns, and other repousse work ornamentation."(7) The elaborate floral decoration on the table is executed in repousse, a form of relief chasing. Undulating ferns, roses, forget-me-nots, morning glories, chrysanthemums, daisies, dogwood, and numerous other blossoms adorn the tabletop; the catalogue described the design as "a veritable battle of the American flora, in which battalions of roses, vines, buds, ferns and others of the horticultural kingdom are scattered all over the field."(8) This "garden" continues onto the canted sides and frames the "picture." The design is softened by cast scroll motifs applied at the corners. The table rests on a pedestal support. On each side of the base, acanthus leaves adorn the feet and sweep upward to a lush botanical spray.

During the 1870s Tiffany & Company produced silverware embellished with motifs inspired by the arts of Japan, a phase which lasted until 1883 when the firm began making silver objects decorated with naturalistic foliage. This new style was first presented in the firm's exhibit at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1889. Tiffany's display showcased objects decorated with American flora-including a tea and coffee  service with repousse carnations, pansies, and ferns that, in its decorative conception , bears a resemblance to the flora on the MWPI table.(9) Tiffany & Company assembled an extensive library of books on the decorative arts to serve as reference material for its designers. An inventory of the books in this collection lists a two-volume set of Native Flowers and Ferns of the United States and a portfolio of ninety-six photographs of ferns; either or both may have been source material for the decorative motifs on the M\"TI'I table.(10)

American silver furniture is extremely rare. Tiffany & Company made only two silver tables, both of which it exhibited at the 1893 Chicago exposition. With the exception of the mahogany board that has the tabletop and tilt mechanism affixed to it, the MWPI example is made of metal, while the body of the other, a toilet table, is made of amaranth fitted with a sterling silver tabletop, mirror, and six-branch  candelabrum.(11)


Essay by Janet Zapata


 

1. For a Tiffany advertisement promoting its plated wares of the 1860s, see Charles Carpenter and Mary Grace Carpenter, Tiffany Silver (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1978), p. 213. In this advertisement Tiffay's address is 550 and 552 Broadway in New York, the firm's location from 1854 to 1870.

 

2. Thomas Shaw apprenticed with Elkington, Mason & Co. in Birmingham, England, before emigrating in the mid-1860s to Providence, R.I., where he worked for the Gorham Company. According to the Newark city directories, Shaw was a "manufacturing silversmith" working at the address listed for "Tiffany & Co. Silversmiths." He served as superintendent of the Tiffany plant until his retirement in 1898. C. C. Adams also worked for the Gorham Company before joining Shaw about 1874. Carpenter, Tiffany Silver; p. 214.

 

3. Gorham Manufacturing Company is the only other American silver maker known to have made furniture. For an illustration of a silver dressing table and stool in the Martele style, see Charles L. Venable, Silver in America, 1840-1940: A Century of Splendor (Dallas and New York: Harry N. Abrams for the Dallas Museum of Art, 1995), p. 257.

 

4. For an illustration of a portion of the display, which included a dinner set comprising sixty-seven pieces, a smoking set, terrapin dishes, a water set, and a lunch set, see "The Tiffany Exhibit at the World's Fair," The Jeweler's Review 22 (Oct. 16, 1893): 60. Receiving fifty-six medals for its display, Tiffany won awards in every division in which it participated. On Oct. 3, 1893, the firm was honored with a medal for its "plated ware," most likely as a result of its "beautiful silver table." See "Tiffany Exhibit," p. 44.

 

5. Quoted in "Tiffany Exhibit," p. 44.

 

6. Frank Shaw died of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-four, a tragic loss of a talented designer and silversmith. Carpenter, Tiffany Silver; pp. 214-15.

 

7. Cited in Tiffany & Co., Catalogue of Tiffany & Co. 5 Exhibit (New York: Tiffany & Co., 1893), p. 84.

 

8. Quoted in "Tiffany Exhibit," p. 44.

 

9. For an illustration of the tea and coffee service, see "The Silverware Department," The Jeweler's Weekly 8 (May 30, 1889): 44, 45. The overall floral design on the salver from this set is rendered in a manner similar to the MWPI table top-a plethora of flowers intertwined with ferns; both have ornate floral borders. At the Chicago fair Tiffany displayed a sterling silver tea and coffee service, once again elaborately chased with American flora; perhaps it was intended to complerr1ent the MWPI table. For an illustration of this set, see "Tiffany Exhibit," p. 48.

 

10. A listing with the heading, "Catalogue of Books," Tiffany Archives, Parsippany, NJ, includes 908 books, catalogues, portfolios, and periodicals assembled by the company from the 1870s until 1908. Native Flowers and Ferns of the United States by Meeham is listed on page 29, item nos. 118-51. The portfolios of photographs of the ferns are listed on

p. 54, item nos. 547 and 548.

 

11. For an illustration, see "Tiffany Exhibit," p. 52. For more information about the toilet table, see Major Ben C. Truman, History of the World's Fail; Being a Complete and Authentic Description of the Columbian Exposition from Its Inception (Philadelphia: Mammoth Publishing Co., 1893), p. 217.