From an ingot discovered in a 1622 shipwreck to a coronet from Queen Victoria’s coronation, a historic selection of silver offers collectors the ultimate treasure hunt
The ten-foot Italian silver palm tree. The gem-encrusted Taj Mahal. The Hopkins-Searles gothic centrepiece top lot, made by Tiffany & Co. There is something for everyone in Sculptural Silver and Works of Art from the Orange Blossom Collection, a historically significant selection from a private collection, at Christie’s online from 23 March to 6 April.
A treasure hunt for collectors, the objects in the sale span nearly four centuries and traverse the globe, from Peru to the United States to Austria. The works on offer boast renowned makers like Paul de Lamerie, Henri Picard, and Buccellati — and their provenance includes the landmark Victor Niederhoffer and Ruxton Love sales.
‘Each piece is a tour de force,’ says Jill Waddell, Christie’s senior silver specialist. ‘The family wasn’t buying anything that was just a functional piece of silver. They bought objects that would stand on their own and entertain. Everything is bombastic, fun, and tells a story.’
Silver you can live with
Many think of silver as something used a few times a year at Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners, but the silver here is not to be stowed away — each object dazzles and draws attention.
Waddell notes, ‘One thing that unites this collection is the sculptural quality of the works. This is silver that you can live with in your home 365 days a year. Almost everything in the collection works in three dimensions. It wants to be enjoyed from all angles.’
The nefs are prime examples. Developed in the Renaissance as a vessel that denoted where the most powerful person at the table was seated, these ornamental sculptures of fully rigged ships would sail down the table with the recipient’s flatware, condiments and linens tucked within.
The 14 nefs in this sale, made in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, carry unique identifying features from miniature anchors to sea monsters. They are elaborately detailed with masts, billowing sails, and even sailors doing battle, loading cannons and cleaning the deck.
Travel and adventure
Other marine-inspired works, including a Buccellati's depiction of Santiago fending off a mako shark in Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, add a sense of travel, adventure and exoticism.
A silver ingot discovered in the shipwreck of the Spanish treasure galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha weaves all this in.
The galleon, constructed in Havana, Cuba, was part of the Tierra Firme fleet of 28 ships, and was one of the eight ships that sank in a hurricane off the Florida Keys in 1622. The heavily armed ship, responsible for transporting this giant block of silver, weighing over 60 pounds, would likely have served as a rear guard for the fleet.
Waddell says, ‘The Atocha ingot is incredible — it's reminiscent of a meteorite that just fell from the sky. The markings indicate what ship it was on, and who the owner of the vessel was. Typically, owners would send money to have the ingots brought over to Spain, but in this case the owner was on the ship and went down with it, so that’s unusual.’
Chivalry and romance
Themes of chivalry and romance run throughout. The tale of St. George and the Dragon was a favourite collecting theme, and this manifests in works like the presentation cup made for Queen Victoria’s coronation, mounted with a finial modelled as the legend.
Depictions of knights and castles can also be found throughout, from a George V 15-karat gold cup with the finial modelled as a knight, to an Elizabeth II turreted gold castle modelled on a quartz base.
Royal and noble
There are numerous works with royal and noble provenance. A gold flatware set engraved with the coat of arms of Talleyrand-Périgord, Napoleon’s right hand, advertises its original owner.
Two historically significant works made by the English silversmith Paul Storr, whom Waddell calls ‘the greatest silversmith of the 19th century’, are also difficult to ignore. There is the royal christening cup Storr made for William IV’s 1840 christening, and a parcel-gilt silver coronet used for Queen Victoria’s coronation. Dated 1838, it was made the year Storr retired.
Waddell notes, ‘This lot is emblematic of the end of an era for the greatest silversmith of his time and the beginning of one of England's most legendary monarchies.’
This collection is prolific, but as Waddell notes ‘The works in this sale tie together to make up a fantastic tale. Viewed as a whole, it’s an epic saga.’
Sign up today
Christie’s Online Magazine delivers our best features, videos, and auction news to your inbox every week