Featured Museum Piece
Sterling Cake Basket circa 1854 by Tiffany & Co.
This month, we feature one of the oldest pieces of sterling silver in our museum, an 1854 cake basket from Tiffany & Co. of New York. This sterling cake basket is decorated with a large floral design and features a twisted, ribbed swing handle. Although the piece is called a "cake basket" it was actually used to carry loaves of bread, with fresh bread carried on one side and stale bread on the other, with the piece typically bearing a floral or wheat design and swinging handle. Cake baskets were introduced during the early to mid-1700s, during the reign of England's King George II. This particular piece was produced by Grosjean and Woodward for Tiffany & Co. in 1854. Prior to 1868, many pieces of hollowware that were sold by Tiffany & Co. were made for them by independent silversmiths who were contracted by John C. Moore, owner of the Moore Company. Eventually, Tiffany & Co. purchased the Moore Company.
For more than 150 years, Tiffany & Co. has represented the epitome of American wealth, artistry, and luxury. On September 18, 1837, Charles Lewis Tiffany and John B. Young decided to open an emporium of luxury goods on Broadway St. in New York City. Tiffany made a splash in the luxury goods world by establishing a nonnegotiable selling price for all items sold in his store. 1837 was a good year and Tiffany & Co. began to grow considerably. During that first year, Tiffany introduced its first "Tiffany Blue Box." All merchandise purchased from Tiffany's was wrapped in a luxurious blue box. A distinctive shade of blue was chosen for the company's hallmark color. To this day, Tiffany & Co. boxes and catalogs are produced using this color.
As New York grew to be an ever larger metropolis, the demand for luxury items continued to increase. In 1848, Tiffany began producing sterling flatware patterns. Tiffany & Co. worked tirelessly to produce the purest sterling available. Their 925/1000 purity standard was immediately recognized by knowledgeable silver customers and eventually became the United States government sterling silver standard. (The 925/1000 standard expresses the ratio of pure silver to other trace metals.) Such notable achievements were not uncommon for Tiffany & Co. though. In 1907, Tiffany & Co.'s gemology department helped the U.S. government establish a standard set of weights for measuring precious stones. Also, the Tiffany standard for measuring the purity of platinum was adopted by the US government in 1926.
The years following the Civil War were good for many people. Captains of industry, like John Pierpont Morgan and John D. Rockefeller, wanted the best that money could buy and Tiffany & Co. was there to happily meet their needs. Mark Twain dubbed the prosperous years in the United States following the Civil War the Gilded Age. America to this point had not known a time of such immense wealth. As the demand for luxury items grew, Tiffany met that demand head on with a line of increasingly opulent luxury goods, including tea services, art, and jewelry. In 1871, Tiffany introduced the pattern Japanese , which in 1956 was reintroduced as the popular Audubon pattern. The pattern drew its inspiration from oriental designs popular in France. Tiffany & Co. had displayed several of their porcelain designs at the Louvre museum in Paris, and many of the pieces remain at the Louvre today. Throughout the remaining years of the 19th century, Tiffany's won wide acclaim as an arbiter of good taste and for the wealth of its clientel. The company acquired its now famous Tiffany diamond in 1878. The faceted diamond was purchased by Charles Lewis Tiffany and weighed a hefty 128 karats. In 1885, Tiffany & Co. was solicited by the U.S. government to redesign the United States seal that appears on US currency. Tiffany's design can now be seen on every American one dollar bill. In 1930, Tiffany & Co. produced one of its most famous trophies. The New York Yacht Club requested that Tiffany make a trophy from 18 karat gold for its annual race. The trophy was so beautiful that Tiffany developed an entire department for producing trophies. Today, Tiffany makes the Vince Lombardi Super Bowl trophy in addition to the Super Bowl champion team rings. Replacements, Ltd. acquired a Tiffany & Co. trophy that is on display in our museum. The trophy is the John McDonald Trophy, donated to Oakland Golf Club in Manhattan in the early 20th century by John McDonald, engineer for the New York subway system. The trophy weighs more than 250 troy ounces and is exquisite in detail. Tiffany & Co. moved to its current location on 5th Ave. in 1940. The new building was designed in the art deco style and began turning heads immediately. Above the door is a statue of Atlas bearing the weight of the world, but in place of a globe, he holds a clock.
The designers of Tiffany's new building wanted to create a architectural gravitas that reminded Tiffany & Co.'s visitors of the rarity and preciousness of the treasures carried by the store. For that reason, all of the buildings doors were made to look like the industrial doors of bank vaults! The new location was the setting of Truman Capote's book, Breakfast at Tiffany's. In Capote's book, Holly Golightly comes to New York seeking true happiness. In a twisted turn of events, Holly finds herself in love with a young writer. The book was later made into a movie starring Audrey Hepburn. To Ms. Golightly, Tiffany & Co. represented happiness and wealth. The book and the movie were both a huge success. Today, Tiffany & Co. remains a leading designer of jewelry, china, crystal, silver, and glassware.
Tiffany sterling continues to be some of the purest in the world. While the Tiffany & Co. museum piece featured at the link below is not offered for sale, we do have a wonderful selection of patterns by Tiffany & Co., including Audubon, English King, Shell and Thread, Faneuil , and more. Come visit us and see the amazing and rare cake basket mentioned above, and leave with silver inspired by the demanding J.P. Morgan. (We also have a cherry wet bar on display in our showroom that was rumored to have been in one of the J.P. Morgan boardrooms.) Our Showroom and Museum are open from 9:00am to 7:00pm ET, 7 days a week (except holidays). The Showroom and Museum are conveniently located between Greensboro and Burlington, NC, at exit 132 off Interstate 85/40. Make plans to visit us soon!
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