Our Museum Feature this month is a shimmering berry casserole spoon in the Etruscan pattern by George W. Shiebler. The spoon measures 10 3/8 inches long and features an asymmetrical hammered design, with geometric elements and three different portrait depictions of ancient figures. According to Dorothy Rainwater in “Encyclopedia of American Silver Manufacturers,” Shiebler was especially noted for the type of medallion work exhibited here, which was inspired by the archeological findings at Pompeii and Herculaneum.
The George W. Shiebler Etruscan pattern takes its name from an ancient society that appeared in what is now northern Italy sometime after 1000 BC. By 700 BC, the Etruscans were well established between the rivers Tiber and Po in an area they called Etruria (what is now Tuscany). Etruria lacked a central government, and was composed of a number of self-governing city states that shared a common language and culture. At the peak of the Etruscan presence on the Italian peninsula, the Etruscans maintained colonies on several Mediterranean islands, and occupied the regions of Campania and Latium, including the city of Rome.
The Etruscans were skilled engineers, and their engineering techniques used to construct buildings, aqueducts, sewers, and bridges were later adopted (and improved upon) by the Romans. The Etruscans were also great artisans, known for their skill in metalwork, painting, and sculpture. The Etruscans were especially skilled at molding and crafting a black pottery called “bucchero,” onto which figures could be affixed. The skill of Etruscan potters was so renowned that when Josiah Wedgwood built a new factory and village for his workers in 1769, he called the facility “Etruria,” and began making vases to emulate what were believed to be Etruscan artifacts unearthed in Italy at the time. The first vases produced at Wedgwood’s new factory were titled “Artes Etruriae Renascuntur,” or “the Arts of Etruria are Reborn.” In 509 BC, the Romans staged a successful rebellion, wresting control of Rome away from the Etruscans. Etruscan decline continued as Gallic invasions weakened Etruria, and Romans gradually seized more and more Etruscan territory. By 88 BC, the remaining Etruscan cities were enveloped into the Roman Empire, thus ending the last traces of Etruscan independence.
The maker of our Etruscan berry spoon, George W. Shiebler, started his career as a salesman for Jahne, Smith & Co in 1867. When the owners of the company both died around 1870, Shiebler, along with two partners, purchased the business and began making gold chains. Three years later, Shiebler bought Coles & Reynolds, a company which specialized in silver spoon manufacturing. In 1876, Shiebler began a new business under his own name, and continued buying other silversmiths’ businesses and dies, including those of John Polhemus, Albert Coles, Henry Hebbard, and others. Although many of Shiebler’s initial products were produced using these purchased dies and designs, the company also began producing its own designs, issuing its first patent in 1877 for the Amaryllis pattern. It’s believed that Shiebler’s Etruscan design started production shortly thereafter, around 1880.
Shiebler soon began adding novelty items to its existing lines of spoons and forks, eventually producing the largest line of silver novelties at the time. According to Rainwater, Shiebler was also noted for transparent enamel work that was applied to brooches, buttons and later on, flatware and hollowware. Shiebler also managed to achieve success selling oxidized silver goods, attempts at which had previously failed in the silver market. Another Shiebler innovation was the application of tinted silver leafs to flatware and hollowware, and he was also credited with introducing Renaissance open-work style in jewelry, trays, spoons, and other items. George W. Shiebler & Co. was officially incorporated in 1892, around the time that Gorham Silver reportedly expressed interest in purchasing the firm. The purchase never happened, however, and the company was out of business by 1915. Today, George W. Shiebler silver products remain in high-demand among collectors.
Although the featured Etruscan berry spoon in our museum is not for sale, we do have an Etruscan dessert/oval soup spoon available for purchase from our inventory, along with Etruscan patterns from many other companies; 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!