Read how metal serving products originated and continue to be artisan and mass-produced; from raw materials to finished products. I share standards of quality for diverse products entrusted to me by technical experts at renowned international factories. Yes, you can JUDGE FOR YOURSELF. INFORMATION IS POWER.
Brand names change, styles change, prices change.
IDEALS OF EXCELLENCE FOR EVERYDAY PRODUCTS DO NOT CHANGE
Throughout the 20th Century, sterling silver and silver-plated metal coffee and tea sets, meat platters, trays, vegetable dishes, pitchers and bowls of all sizes were sold in the SILVERWARE departments of large stores.
These hollow metal wares were made long before the adage, form follows function. Their decorative designs mirrored art, changing social patterns and customs and their elegance and permanence established them as desirable wedding gifts. Couples not only registered for glassware, dinnerware and flatware, they registered for silver hollow-ware.
In the late 20th Century, the price of a troy ounce of silver began to escalate and contemporary lifestyle became increasingly casual: retail sales of silver hollow-ware declined. Retail stores added more affordable serving products made of stainless steel, pewter, copper, brass, bronze, tin and polished aluminum alloys which were casual and required little or no maintenance. SILVER HOLLOW WARE transitioned into SERVE-WARE .
This series of posts is only about METAL SERVE-WARE. Standards of quality are from on-site interviews with management, designers and technical experts at international factories renowned for decorative and functional metal home products. The excellence of their products is established by the excellence of the quality of the raw materials and production methods from which they’re made.
Early man’s ability to shape metals for ceremonial purposes
proved reverence for metals as well as documentation of our
world before written history.
The Old Testament refers to the refiner’s fire—and Solomon’s
drinking vessels of gold, and silver, —as a token of payment in
Babylon in 4500 B.C.
Regrettably, many precious metal artifacts were melted for money in times of war and depression. And Paul Revere? Our patriot silversmith had to recycle silver objects and silver currency to produce new silverware because British embargoes forbade importing silver bullion.
At FIT, during a product knowledge class about metal home products, my students and I watched a documentary of a contemporary master-silversmith reenacting skills of a Colonial silversmith performing every artisan task to make a sterling coffee pot including casting an ingot from melted scrap, hammering it into sheet stock and slowly raising the metal by hammering.
The process of hand-crafting a coffee pot complete with handle and spout engendered such dramatic suspense, the class audibly cheered his success!
Casting, extruding, soldering, pickling, annealing, cutting, chasing, planishing and polishing for any metal—are skills of a metal smith—and are only some of the artisan techniques developed to showcase masterful craftsmanship.
In 1842, electro-plating democratized the production and availability of affordable, good quality silver-plated serving wares—but for many, the opportunity to own sterling or silver-plate home products was diminished by wars, depressions and recessions.
Post World War II recovery brought prosperity and a population explosion of baby boomers and silverware departments overflowed with lustrous wares— in anticipation of —and celebration of —a gracious lifestyle.
My British commissionaire took me to the London Silver Vaults*
— for me, an equation of discovering Tutankhamen’s treasures!
Established in 1882, the vaults performed as giant safe deposits for
moneyed classes when they were away from London. Damaged in
the blitz, they were rebuilt at Chancery Lane as a labyrinthine retail
space for antique silver and jewelry .
Muffineers, sweetmeat baskets, epergnes, chocolate pots, tureens,
picture frames and flatware surpassed anything I had ever seen in
a manufacturer’s showroom! Surely, a trove?
Masterpieces of artistry and craftsmanship (some less so) reflected
the formal dining fashions of Georgian and Victorian England.
Hallmarks and assay markings provided assurance of authenticity
and history of each piece.
*The London Silver Vaults at Chancery Lane are currently
listed as ‘one of the things to do in London’.
Throughout the 1960’s, sales of silver-plate and sterling hollow-ware continued to surge — until the recession and economic stagnation of the 1970’s. Coupled with a casual lifestyle, aging baby-boomers had no desire for silver wares : they were costly and required a lot of maintenance.
By 1990, retail sales of sterling and silver-plated wares were sorely impacted by erratic raw material costs. A troy ounce of silver averaged $4.95 in 1990, $20.19 in 2010, $35.12 in 2011, $31.15 in 2012, $23.79 in 2013, $19.08 in 2014, and $14.56 in 2016. Price volatility is attributed to global demand for pure silver for high-tech industrial applications and global economic concerns.
Good quality cannot be assumed. We’re easily duped: even inferior metal wares look good when new and most of us can’t identify differences in their quality—although most of us think we can.
The breadth and complexity of materials and production methods currently used for serve-ware is extensive; not all have merit. What we need to know is rarely on labels nor required by law to be there. Untrained salespersons dispense a lot of inaccurate information; most brand advertising is blatantly brand-biased. Does any manufacturer admit their products are less-than-good?
Globally, sales of silver serve-ware have declined because of price and our casual lifestyle but THE STORY of SERVE-WARE has a happy ending because of the diverse and beautiful 21st Century metal serve-ware products currently made that require little or no maintenance!
Pat Breen: EYEWITNESS TO QUALITY
My next post: FUNCTIONAL SERVE-WARE IN OUR LIVES ©