Ellin Mackay, the recipient of this platter, was the wife of composer Irving Berlin and the granddaughter of John W. Mackay, famed for his discovery of the Comstock Lode.
In 1873, Mackay, an Irish immigrant who spent 22 years mining in the west, discovered the largest silver deposit in America deep inside the fabled Comstock Lode of Virginia City, Nevada. According to family legend, when his wife Marie Louise Hungerford Mackay visited the mine, she asked if she could have enough silver for a dinner service. Her husband obliged, sending a half ton of silver to Tiffany's with instructions to make an elaborate dinner service for twenty-four people.
Tiffany's records show that two hundred silversmiths worked for two years on the service, producing 1,350 pieces of which 370 were holloware items. Charles Grosjean, creator of the Chrysanthemum and Lap-over patterns, designed the Mackay service. He named the pattern "Indian" after its dense floral arabesques and other references to Near-Eastern design. The service was exhibited to great acclaim at the 1878 Exposition Universelle in Paris, one critic commenting that "This splendid service alone would form a very full exhibit" (The Daily Graphic, May 25, 1878 as quoted in Carpenter, Tiffany Silver, 1997, p. 50). The Mackays kept a house in Paris, and later in London, where they entertained on a lavish scale, including President Ulysses S. Grant. The Mackays were generous philanthropists and in 1908 founded the Mackay School of Mines at the University of Nevada.
A punch bowl and ladle from the Mackay service, also with a presentation inscription to Mrs. Berlin from her brother, sold in these Rooms, 16 January 1998, lot 39.
Gen. U.S. Grant and his party visiting the Comstock Lode in 1879. John Mackay is on the far left. The engraving of the photograph was published in Harper's Weekly, November, 1879.