“My Salad Days”… A Silver Bowl, Tiffany & Co., circa 1940. Important Americana added to The Lant Collection.
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
I was in London on one of my many formative voyages, sitting in the balcony mesmerized by The Royal Shakespeare Company’s rendition of Shakespeare’s play “Anthony and Cleopatra” (1623). There was a chatty little fellow sitting right in front of me who couldn’t have been any older than 12, and his mother was on a marathon shushing expedition, trying to get her annoying darling boy to hush.
Then Cleopatra started her famous speech to Julius Caesar at the end of Act I:
“My salad days, / When I was green in judgment, cold in blood…”
Without dropping a beat, the kiddo asked his mother in a stage whisper, “Does this mean she was Caesar’s salad?” And of course, not only did the audience lose it, but the cast lost it too, and for a moment we gave way to hearty laughter… no doubt the young man was happy with his results. It certainly left a happy impression on me, for this incident took place over 40 years ago and is as clear to me today as the evening I too joined in the infectious mirth. Only in England.
My mother was not a notable cook; quite the opposite. But she knew the importance of green leafy vegetables, and a host of other healthy ingredients from which she created salads that were hearty and nutritious… and which she hoped would obliterate the memory of her main courses, which were entirely forgettable, and quite possibly dangerous.
I can see the salad bowl now. It was used every night, and only rarely at mid-day. It was wood, and came with a pair of wooden tongs. It followed us on our peregrinations from Illinois to California, and over the years to many other places. There are few serving dishes which have the impact that these did.
That is why, when I became aware of this important American silver salad bowl, I gave it a good long look, which included returning to this item many times. I found it on the internet, on the 1stdibs website, which is a cornucopia of interesting things. Once such a sight catches my eye, I feel constitutionally obligated to read all the entries. 1stdibs is so large, that laudable activity is impossible. There is just too much to look at and take in.
I found myself thinking about this dazzling object, and kept saying to myself “You don’t collect American silver, you don’t collect things this late”. But I remembered what one well known collector had told me some time ago… “Never be a prisoner to your collection. Don’t just collect one kind of thing from one period, show that you are above such petty constraints. And if the object in question is quality, even though it is in a period you know nothing about, buy it, and learn. Remember, every object is a teacher. Never forget that you are a connoisseur above all else.”
Thus emboldened, I crept back to look at “my” salad bowl, as I already thought it. It was lovely. Designed by Olaf Wilford, from Tiffany & Co. New York circa 1940, it had the strong bold design of a master. This was no mere salad bowl; it was like all good art a statement by an accomplished master about his vision for the object in question.
A designer like Wilford (1894-1980) aims to seize your brain by showing you how even a common object can be turned into art, and seize your eye. Curiously, the bowl was not designed first, as one logically might suppose. No, the first objects to be designed were actually the pair of parcel-gilt silver salad servers, serving spoon and fork. They were designed in 1937 as part of a limited edition.
These were followed in 1940 by the silver salad bowl. This striking object, in the Art Deco fashion, was featured in Tiffany’s display at the House of Jewels Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair, 1939-40. Although these items were not created to be a set, they look so good together they soon became one de facto.
The bowl itself, with its tomato or pumpkin vine design (not oranges, as was mistakenly written in the original description of the item), was well liked. Thus, Tiffany decided to make a limited number of bowls and serving instruments, and did so until the early 1950’s. Thus right from the start this was a popular pattern, and it was illustrated in Jewel Stern’s “Modernism in American Silver” p. 177 fig. 8.15 and 8.16.
A closer look at the bowl and serving instruments.
The plain hemispherical bowl applied with five vertical panels, stylized tomatoes and foliage, with a conforming salad serving fork and spoon, chased on the reverse, with foliage marked on base of bowl and numbered 22888, servers marked on reverse all with star mark. Here are its dimensions: diameter 9 ½ in, 24 cm; 15 oz 4 dwt, 095g.
These three objects had the undeniable “Wow Factor”, which is hardly surprising since they were designed by a master and offered to the public by Tiffany & Co., a brand name we are all familiar with.
A few words about Tiffany & Co.
Tiffany was founded September 18th, 1837 by Charles Lewis Tiffany and John B. Young. The reason Tiffany has been so successful over time is the quality, originality, bold display, and cunning designs which cause you literally to stop and stare the way Audrey Hepburn did in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961). Even if you’re broke like Holly Golightly, Hepburn’s character, just standing in the window can transport you to a place you want to be, and with the money you’ll need to achieve your goal.
Tiffany is all about dreams, social success, and one-upsmanship. Anyone who looks at a diamond or any of the high grade Tiffany products cannot fail to be excited by them. Tiffany supplies the goods, and your imagination – and deep pockets – does the rest.
From time to time, Tiffany has deviated from its core principles, and paid the price. It is easy to see how low grade executives in Tiffany’s board room might argue strenuously about the common sense of expanding the gold Tiffany’s name to sell lesser merchandise. However, time after time, Tiffany’s has discovered that it isn’t just the name that’s so important, it’s what that name offers, and stands for.
In this connection, I read with the greatest interest and awe of some of the projects that Tiffany’s has been involved with over the years. I can mention only a few of a very great number.
For example, Tiffany & Co. was the first U.S. firm to win an award for excellence in silverware at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1867. Tiffany designed the logo for the New York Yankees in 1909. In 1887, Tiffany bought the French Crown Jewels. In 1942 Tiffany created a new design for the Congressional Medal of Honor. In 1968, First Lady Ladybird Johnson commissioned Tiffany’s to make a new set of White House china on the theme of American wildflowers, her particular interest. If the subject is quality, Tiffany & Co. is the answer.
“A pretty girl is like a melody that haunts you night and day”
As part of the 1919 “Ziegfeld Follies”, there was a famous tune by Irving Berlin, “A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody”. It describes the tormented process every collector goes through when they see something they want and must have despite all logical reasons, like: not now, you don’t have any money, you don’t need it, another one will be coming along in a minute. All such concerns are rendered meaningless when the connoisseur connects with the object of his affections, and cannot think of anything else.
“Just like the strain of a haunting refrain,
She'll start up-on a marathon
And run around your brain.”
I have personally experienced this fateful and inconvenient summons, which overturns all of my good intentions for frugality, for saving, for going slow, for being patient, and for never going beyond your capacity. But you know as well as I do that it is the experience of going beyond, of taking the risk, of seizing the object (or the person) and making it yours, totally, unquestionably yours, that thrills you. Connoisseurs can never be attracted to the pedestrian. We crave the different, the unusual, the unique, and we go through much suffering to ensure we get them.
That is why after I had read and reread the description of these marvelous objects, I had to do what was necessary to get them, planning wisdom be damned. Your happiest moments in collecting will be those that deliver a new level of excitement.
“You can't escape she's in your memory.
By morning night and noon.”
So I took the plunge and acquired this item for The Lant Collection.
People ask me will I use this item… will I use any of the many silver serving dishes I’ve acquired? The answer is always a resounding “I do.” And if you think that your salad tastes the same in wood as it does in sterling silver, you need to adjust your palette… for it is impossible to live with and use a beautiful object without yourself being uplifted by the experience. This is the importance of my collection… and when you see it, you are not just experiencing the item or how it looks, but what it can do to improve your life.
“She will leave you and then come back again
A pretty girl is just like a pretty tune”
This lovely three-part set proves this again, for it is never just an implement, it is a way to deliver perfection… and that must always be the overriding goal.
N.B. I take this opportunity to thank Michael Johnson of Eiseman’s Jewels in Dallas, Texas. One of the great things about collecting is the tremendous people you meet along the way, people who know more than you do and are happy to share it. Michael Johnson is such a person. He generously made time to discuss these lovely items and provide me with photographs.
Of course he wanted to make the sale; and he did. But more importantly, we both made a new friend and a new source of valuable information. Thank you, Michael.
Dr. Jeffrey Lant, Harvard educated, started writing for publication at age 5. Since then, he has published over 1,000 articles and 63 books, and counting.