THE CENTERPIECE EPERGNE
The design for this monumental centerpiece epergne first premiered as the highlight of the Meriden Britannia Company presentation at the 1876 Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia, which celebrated the 100th anniversary of American independence. The magnificent stand was built of black varnished wood with large glass displays bordered by gold, with marble slabs along the base and covered by a blue and gold painted dome. The displays were full of examples of the company’s wares ranging from dinner services to sculptures to centerpieces. In writing about the centerpiece offered here in his description of the fair, Industrial Art of the International Exhibition, Walter Smith wrote:
From the fine collection exhibited by the MERIDEN BRITANNIA COMPANY, we have selected for illustration the beautiful EPERGNE, destined, doubtless, some day to adorn the board of some lover of true art… The example before us is an Epergne of unusually large size... Its general material is what is usually called German Silver, hardened with white metal. This material admits of a very perfect finish in either silver or gilt... From the base - which is made of nickel-silver polished like a mirror to represent water - rise four graceful columns supporting a dome. On either side of the pillars, standing in shells of a conventional pattern, are figures. On one side, Amphitrite drawn by walruses; on the other, Neptune, his car attached to a pair of Tritons who are heralding his approach. From the center of the dome rises a central shaft supporting a bowl of very graceful design, around whose base rise four arms curving outward and holding suspended from their extremities four other bowls of similar pattern to the first, presenting as a whole an extremely graceful and appropriate design.
According to their 1878 catalogue, Meriden Britannia Company won a first place medal at the Centennial Exhibition fair for their display. This centerpiece model was first listed in their 1877 catalogue following the Exhibition at a price of $475, the most expensive work in the entire stock. It is not clear if more than one of the present model was ever made.
THE MERIDEN BRITANNIA COMPANY
The Meriden Britannia Company was founded in 1852 by seven partners in Wallingford, Connecticut. First using Britannia and then later nickel silver as base metal, the company quickly became one of the largest manufacturers of silver-plated hollowware in the world, with additional offices in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and London. The firm showed at a number of international fairs both in America and Europe, and continued to expand their production, including in 1895 when they acquired the New York firm of Wilcox and Evertson enabling them to begin producing sterling flatware. Three years later, Meriden Britannia joined a number of other firms forming the International Silver Company which remained in business until the 1980’s.
DAVID E. KAUFMAN (1883-1962)
The presentation plaque found on this centerpiece reads, Presented to Minister David E. Kaufman by Bolivia. David E. Kaufman was born in Towanda, Pennsylvania where he received his early education before attending the Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle, PA. Kaufman then began practicing law in Towanda before moving to Philadelphia to continue his career. In 1928 Kaufman was named Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Bolivia by President Coolidge, presumably to assist with preparations for the signing of the Treaty of Lima, which took place on June 3rd, 1929. While there, Kaufman helped to improve diplomatic relations between the United States and Bolivia, and became the first American to receive Bolivia’s Grand Cross of the Order of the Condor of the Andes. Kaufman only served in Bolivia only until January 1929, though, after which he served as minister to Siam, now Thailand, from 1930 to 1933, before returning to his law practice in Philadelphia.
Thank you to The International Silver Company Archives Collection, Meriden Historical Society, for their assistance with this note.