Since the establishment of the firm in 1837, Tiffany & Company has become synonymous with goods that exhibit both exceptional quality and striking elegance. Tiffany tea sets – specifically the company’s silver tea sets – exude these characteristics and thus are a consistently coveted collector’s item whenever an example appears on the market. In this article, we take a closer look at the legacy of the Tiffany tea set, explore some of the most popular variations among today’s connoisseurs, and offer insights and tips for those seeking out a magnificent find of their own.
History of the Tiffany Silver Tea Set
Founders Charles Lewis Tiffany and John B. Young first launched their store in Brooklyn, Connecticut, as a leading purveyor of fine stationery and other “fancy goods.” In the years that followed, these “fancy goods” grew exponentially to include a much wider range of luxurious product offerings. In the 1850s, for example, with the new official moniker of “Tiffany & Company” in place, Tiffany and his team ventured into the lucrative realm of jewelry. At the same time, Tiffany expanded its connections with silversmiths to begin creating equally compelling silver pieces.
This incorporation of silver into Tiffany’s tantalizing repertoire earned the company almost immediate recognition. In 1867, for instance, Tiffany & Company became the first American maker to be honored at the Parisian Exposition Universelle for their silver submissions. Their drive for conjuring the beauty of nature in their wares brought renewed attention to silver craftsmanship, setting the company apart from European competitors in the process. Also compelling was their commitment to the British sterling silver standard of 0.925, which Charles Tiffany convinced American makers to adopt in order to ensure utmost quality in their silver products.
Tiffany’s son Louis Comfort took over the helm of Tiffany & Company near the turn of the century and continued to guide it along the path to success. The younger Tiffany had, by the advent of 1900, infused the brand with his passion and talent for Art Nouveau aesthetics that combined themes from nature with exotic motifs from around the globe. It was thanks to his vision – and the company’s continued commitment to exceptional quality and craftsmanship in the years since – that Tiffany continues to be one of the most revered luxury brands on the market today.
The Various Styles of Tiffany Tea Sets
The brilliance of Tiffany’s entire catalogue is that there is an incredible variety of motifs, patterns, and materials that appear in their creations. From the clean lines of the Neoclassical to the Rococo flair of flamboyant blooms and the infusion of novel metalworking mixes learned from international cultures, Tiffany delighted their clientele with a remarkable assortment of styles. This variety means that the modern collector of Tiffany tea sets can let their personal tastes reign supreme. That being said, some designs for Tiffany tea sets are more desirable than others on the market today.
‘Japanese-Style’ Tiffany Silver Tea Sets
One of the most striking turn-of-the-century Tiffany tea set patterns was the ‘Japonesque’, or ‘Japanese-Style’ set. These silver tea sets earned their name because they emulated the Japanese art of mokume, a metalworking technique in which thin layers of other metals were applied to a silver vessel’s surface to add a sense of texture and dimensions. Tiffany debuted his mastery of the technique as early as 1878, when he showcased his “Conglomerate Vase” (now in a private collection) that appeared at the Paris Exhibition that year. The brilliance of these ‘Japanese-style’ pieces is considered museum-worthy today, as is showcased by this striking piece housed at the Birmingham Museum of Art or this teapot in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Mixed Metal Tiffany Tea Sets
In addition to Japonesque designs, the designers of Tiffany & Company excelled at experimenting with new motifs and materials in their wares, undoubtedly a reflection of turn-of-the-century fascination with the artistic traditions of eastern cultures. An example of this style is that of Tiffany’s “Persian” pattern, which was used between 1872 and 1904.
As this splendid teapot and tongs within the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection showcases, this Persian pattern features a tantalizing combination of silver, richly-colored enamel, and ivory accents and designs inspired by Near Eastern traditions. According to museum records, an 1898 article praised this pattern as “one of the most artistic silver sets ever produced by the hands of an American silversmith.” Equally brilliant, though, are the enameled works crafted for Tiffany by Russian artisans, such as Antip Ivanovich Kuzmichev (working 1893-1917), whose intricate enamel additions illuminated brilliant designs and enlivened the silvery warmth of Tiffany wares.
Chrysanthemum Pattern Tiffany Silver Tea Sets
The Chrysanthemum pattern was the creation of Charles T. Grosjean and debuted in 1878 to such acclaim that it rapidly became one of the brand’s most celebrated styles. As the name suggests, the pattern is rich with bulging Baroque blossoms and other flora that consume the majority of each silver vessel’s surface. The beauty and timeless elegance of Chrysanthemum pieces – which also included extensive flatware services – resulted in an extended production of the style well into the 1900s. The celebration for Chrysanthemum pattern sets continues in museum collections today, like this breathtaking set in the Cooper Hewitt Museum.
Porcelain Tiffany Tea Sets
While the field of Tiffany & Company silver tea sets perhaps garners more attention from collectors, the company also produced numerous notable porcelain tea sets that share a similar sense of luxury. Particularly captivating about these porcelain tea sets is that they reinforce the rich network of collaborators who contributed their unique styles to the brand’s offerings. Some of the most splendid examples of such vintage tea sets include the Majolica pattern conjured by Portuguese artists or some of the Private Stock patterns, like that created by Camille Le Tallec (1906-1991) for Tiffany in the latter half of the twentieth century.
Tapping Into Today’s Market for Tiffany Tea Sets
Tiffany tea sets continue to be a crowd favorite among collectors for their sophisticated style and show-stopping presence, either as part of your interior décor or as part of your table service. As seen here, most iconic are the spectacular Tiffany silver tea sets, which is perhaps why these sets typically sell at a much higher price point. If you aren’t sold on silver, though, or you want to enter the market without throwing your bank account out of balance, Tiffany tea sets crafted in porcelain can be an equally beautiful reminder of the company’s timeless taste.
Looking for more? Browse Sterling Silver Tea Sets For Sale at Auction today on Invaluable
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