Our Museum Feature this month is a beautiful 6-piece tea set by Ball, Black & Company done in the “Egyptian Revival” style. The set includes a coffee pot, a tea pot, a creamer, a sugar bowl with lid, a waste bowl, and a tray. Produced in 1860, the set is crafted of “English” sterling, a relatively new development for American silver at the time. The English sterling standard originated in the 1300s under the reign of Edward I, and requires sterling pieces to have a ratio of 92.5 percent pure silver to 7.5 percent alloy. Until 1852, the year in which Tiffany & Co. became the first American silver company to use the “English sterling” standard, American silver makers used the “coin silver” standard. This standard required a 90 percent silver to 10 percent alloy ratio. The set features Egyptian-style geometric elements and ornamentation, including figural pharaonic finials, a sculpted falcon that presumably represents the Egyptian god Horus, and spouts adorned with a pharaoh headdress (or “nemes”) that also resemble rearing cobras.
Although this tea set was produced during an 1860s “Egyptian Revival” period, it certainly wasn’t the first time Egyptian elements were emulated in decorative arts and design. Renewed interest in Egyptian culture first surfaced in ancient Rome during the Roman rule of Egypt from 30 BC to 395 AD. During this period, Roman decorations began to incorporate Egyptian motifs. The best known example from this period is Hadrian’s Villa, which included various Egyptian design elements and statues of Egyptian gods. After the Roman Empire fell, interest in Egyptian culture declined. But “Egyptomania” resurfaced again during the Italian Renaissance, when ancient Roman artifacts reflecting an interest in Egyptian culture along with actual Egyptian artifacts were discovered and exhibited. Italian artists of the time began to incorporate these Egyptian elements in their works. In the eighteenth century, travelers from England witnessed the Egyptian elements in Italian art and design. When these travelers returned home, they created Egyptian-themed gardens and home interiors. Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaign at the end of the eighteenth century also renewed the European fervor for Egyptian design. The interest in all things Egyptian fell out of style in Britain in the 1830s, but was again revived in the 1860s, when our featured tea set was produced by Ball, Black & Company.
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Ball, Black & Company operated in New York City from 1851 to 1875. In 1876 Ball, Black & Company was succeeded by Black, Starr & Frost, with William Black being an owner in both companies. Author Dorothy Rainwater notes in her reference, “Encyclopedia of American Silver Manufacturers,” that Ball, Black & Company in the 1860s “bought Reed & Barton wares ‘in the metal’ and operated their own plating establishment.”
Although the featured tea set in our museum is not for sale, we do have many wonderful sterling tea sets in a variety of patterns available for purchase from our inventory; be sure to browse our web site. And remember that we always invite you to visit our facilities – here you’ll see a stunning variety of silver, china, crystal, and collectibles! Our retail store and museum are open from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm ET, 7 days (except holidays); free tours are available from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm ET, 7 days. The retail store and museum are conveniently located between Greensboro and Burlington, NC, at exit 132 off Interstate 85/40. We look forward to seeing you!