Continental Silver and Plate

The sale at Sothebys in London of a silver dinner service made in Paris between 1735 and 1738 focused attention on foreign silver. The 168 pieces, made by the eminent silversmith Jacques Roettier, which had been in one family since they were made, fetched $579,600. Such a very large sum is unusual for a single lot of silver of any nationality, but the service was a most outstanding one. The price it realized need not alarm the average collector, for the majority of foreign silver fortunately can be bought for considerably less money.

Just as English silver suffered great losses during the Civil War, so the many wars that raged on the Continent during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries caused the destruction of large quantities almost everywhere. Further, in France, the Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars wiped out a very large proportion of the remaining early French pieces. In view of the turbulent history of every country it is surprising that any silver has survived anywhere, but in fact a considerable amount can be found. As in other branches of collecting, however, there is a shortage of pieces of the highest quality.

On the whole, the study of much Continental silver is made difficult by a lack of information on the subject; few reliable books have been published, and authoritative opinions are hard to obtain. In spite of numerous regulations enforcing both assaying and marking much old foreign silverware is unmarked, and to complicate the matter there is a glut of fakes.

The earliest pieces of any nationality are extremely rare and seldom to be seen outside the strongest showcases of the largest museums. Pieces made in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are sometimes to be bought, but the more important ones are expensive.

The most sought include: seventeenth-century cups of all kinds, many of German origin and often in unusual forms; Swedish tankards of large size on ball feet and each with a coin set in the cover; Dutch and German teapots in styles that were imitated closely in Continental porcelain; almost anything French of the early eighteenth century or before. However, the written word can give little idea of the masterpieces and near-masterpieces that were made in each country; the actual pieces must be seen and studied. In most instances this is achieved best in the land of their origin.

Collectable Antiques: