Our Museum Feature this month is a 3-piece Lion carving set by Frank W. Smith Silver. Introduced in 1903, Lion is an exquisite pattern that features a majestic lion at its tip with crisp, detailed mane and claws that reach around the sides. The back of the pieces feature the back of the crouching lion with more impeccable detailing on its mane and tail. With its eye-catching, detailed ornamentation, Lion is one of the best-known flatware patterns produced by Frank W. Smith, and the carving set featured here is a fantastic representation of this magnificent pattern.
Since ancient times, the cutting and distribution of meat has been at the center of great feasts. In the great banquet halls of medieval castles, the knife was the most common utensil – many guests would arrive with their own. The carving station was a prized station in the household, presided over by a skilled worker who exhibited civility and good breeding, as well as (one would imagine) a certain degree of showmanship. Carving at the time was an elaborate process, governed by a variety of rules, special knives, and instruction on how to carve each different animal. An entire book dedicated to the art of carving, “Boke of Keruynge,” was published in 1508 by Wynkyn de Worde, and a 1581 text by Vincenzo Cervio, a famed Italian carver of the time, explained how to carve meats as they were held by the fork in midair, in an elaborate tableside show. By the 1700s and 1800s, carving was considered an important skill, one passed down from fathers to sons.
As meals became more informal during the nineteenth century, the importance placed on the art of carving began to wane. It became an acceptable practice to carve while sitting down, and the duties of carving shifted from the “head” of the household to others. By the mid-nineteenth century, as the practice of “service a la francaise” (where every item of a particular service was brought to the table at once) was replaced with “service a la russe” (in which food items were precut and plated before coming to the table), the responsibility of carving passed from the host to the kitchen staff. Still, the head of the house was expected to employ a certain degree of carving aptitude at informal gatherings. A 1908 text on etiquette states: “At a formal dinner, all carving will have been done outside of the diningroom. At an informal, or family dinner, where the food is placed upon the table, the host is expected to attend to the carving, the acquisition of which art is most desirable by every gentleman. The carving knife should be well sharpened in advance. The carver naturally becomes the helper, and he should indicate for whom he destines the first plate, having previously asked what cut is preferred.”
The Frank W. Smith Silver Company was founded in 1886 in Gardner, Massachusetts. Its founder, Frank W. Smith, had previously learned the silversmith trade from his uncle, William B. Durgin. Initially, the company only produced sterling silver flatware. When Smith decided to expand his production to hollowware in 1889, he hired one of the company’s first (and arguably most successful) designers, Arthur J. Stone. The company excelled at producing both machine-made products, using state-of-the-art equipment, and handmade wares crafted by individual artisans. The business grew rapidly – by 1892, Smith had doubled the size of his original factory. The Lion pattern was designed by Pierre J. Cheron, who began working for Frank W. Smith in 1901. In addition to designing Lion, Cheron also received acclaim for his hollowware designs, including a punch set for the USS Louisiana battleship. Upon Frank W. Smith’s death in 1904, the company was taken over by his son, William D. Smith. In 1958, the company’s tools and dies were sold to the Webster Company, a subsidiary of Reed & Barton.
The Frank W. Smith Lion carving set in our museum is not for sale, but we do have Lion items available for purchase in 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 500,000-square-foot warehouse facilities hold more than 12.7 million individual pieces in more than 425,000 patterns! 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!