George Sharp Sterling Silver Ice Cream Set
First, a brief history of ice cream: Legend has it that in the 1st century A.D., Roman Emperor Nero would send runners to gather snow from the mountains, then enjoy his frozen treat topped with fresh fruit. It wasn’t until the 17th century, however, that ice cream is thought to have become a dairy product. King Charles I of England, well before his beheading and the rule of Oliver Cromwell and his puritanical Roundheads, indulged himself and members of his court with a secret dessert prepared by his chef. After Charles I was executed in 1649, his chef astutely gave up the recipe, and soon nobility in Europe were enjoying “crème ice,” that is, ice cream. Although it was a delicacy available primarily only for the rich in Europe and England, the popularity of ice cream soon spread to the Colonies. Thomas Jefferson had a special recipe for vanilla ice cream, George Washington is said to have paid a handsome sum for a specific recipe, and James and Dolley Madison served the treat at their second inaugural ball in 1813. Because of the amount of work involved in making it (ice had to be cut from frozen rivers and ponds and stored, not to mention the elbow grease required to make the frozen confection by hand), ice cream remained a delicacy available primarily to those who could afford to pay servants to make it for them.
That changed in 1843, when a woman named Nancy Johnson filed for a U.S. patent for her “hand-cranked freezer.” Johnson sold the rights to her patent to William Young, and other individuals quickly introduced improvements. The new hand-cranked ice cream churn made smoother ice cream much more quickly than previous methods. And it made the treat available to a broad range of households. Small businesses sprang up to sell ice cream locally. But it was Jacob Fussell of Baltimore, MD, who was the first to manufacture and distribute ice cream on a large scale. His first factory opened in Seven Valleys, PA, in 1851. Two years later he moved the facility to Baltimore. Later he opened factories in other cities. With Fussell’s efforts and the work of other producers, the cost of ice cream was reduced, spreading its popularity.
About this same time, circa 1850, the beautifully crafted George Sharp Sterling Silver Ice Cream Set that is our Museum Feature for this month was crafted and sold. Charles Venable notes in his comprehensive book, Silver in America 1840-1940: A Century of Splendor, that Sharp was born in Ireland in 1819 and immigrated to the U.S. as a youngster. He apprenticed in the silver trade and emerged in Philadephia, PA, around 1850 as an independent manufacturer along with William Sharp, who is thought to have been his brother. Sharp’s firm, which employed 45 men in better days, succumbed to the financial crisis of the Panic of 1873, finally closing its doors for good in 1874. Silver designed and made by Sharp has always been noted for the excellence of its craft. During his career he sold items directly to wealthy patrons in the Philadelphia area, but he sometimes also provided pieces exclusively to such outstanding retailers as Bailey & Co. and Tiffany & Co.
The ice cream set featured here is emblematic of George Sharp’s work. It features long, slender handles, typical of his design, and “ball tips” at the ends of the handles, a design feature that Sharp patented in 1866. Atop each ball tip a singing bird is perched, a very “Sharpian” touch. He made great use of animal figures in his silver designs, including squirrels, stags, flies, beetles, butterflies, and more. The utensils include a subtle gold wash on the bowls of the spoons and the blade of the server. So lovely is this set that the ice cream maker surely would have had to have done an excellent job, otherwise the diners could easily have paid more attention to the silver than to the dessert!
While the George Sharp Sterling Silver Ice Cream Set in our Museum is not for sale, some of the older silver patterns we have on hand for sale include them. Among the patterns we recommend are Gorham Lily and Gorham Albemarle . With these ice cream pieces you’ll bring true elegance to your summertime entertaining! Please visit Replacements, Ltd., where free tours are available every half-hour. Our Showroom and Museum are open from 9:00am to 7:00pm ET, 7 days a week (except holidays). Be sure to bring your walking shoes our facilities are 415,000 square feet, the size of 7 football fields! Call 1-800-REPLACE (1-800-737-5223) 7 days a week, 9:00 am – 10:00 pm ET, 7 days (we answer the phone very quickly!). The Showroom and Museum are conveniently located between Greensboro and Burlington, NC, at exit 132 off Interstate 85/40. We look forward to seeing you!
Click here to view our Featured Museum Pieces Archive!