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Author Topic:   The Audubon Tea Set Mystery
wev
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iconnumber posted 05-02-2001 06:39 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for wev     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The John James Audubon Museum in Henderson, Kentucky recently acquired a handsome and rather curious presentation tea set. I hope that our readers and moderators might help explain some of its mystery and speculate on its origins.

The basic facts are these:
The set comprises a teapot, creamer, and sugar bowl. A matching waste bowl (of an oddly small size) has also been located in a local private collection. The teapot is inscribed in a mid-19th century style To My Dear Friend / John James Audubon / as a token of esteem and affection / from / John Bachman on the front and JJA on the back in a later style, c 1890. The sugar bowl (and the waste bowl) are inscribed with the JJA alone. All the pieces are fully gilt and none bear any maker's marks. John Bachman was a close friend and colleague of Audubon. A minister by profession, he was also a gifted naturalist, editing Audubon's Quadripeds of American and seeing it through the press after Audubon's death.

Now comes the puzzles:
Though unmarked, the set appears to be the product of John Moore c 1860, perhaps later. Audubon died in 1851, his son Victor in 1860, and son John W. in 1862. His widow, Lucy, sold their home in 1863 and bounced around from granddaughter to granddaughter until her death in 1871. Bachman, who also died in 1871, was far from a wealthy man and this was presumably an expensive item in its day. It would be supposed that such a sacrifice on his part would be made to commemorate a major occasion - the publication in 1848 of Birds of America, for example. The main inscription style would fit the date roughly and the initials could be presumed to be a later addition, but what of the set itself? It seems some 20 or more years later, well after the recipient was dead. If it was a memorial gift to the widow, then the wording of the inscription - and lack of date - seems odd. If this is a "made" piece, it seems that someone went to rather great expense getting the wrong style service for a well-known chronology. Could this be a later replacement for a lost original? The museum also owns a portion of the family's English made sterling flatware and several pieces are known to be old replacements (in silver plate) due to a fire (date unknown). Perhaps the tea set suffered the same fate, though no effort was made to replace it in the original style c 1840-50.

I would appreciate any thoughts or impressions on the set's maker, pattern, origin, date, etc.

The images ( click on image to enlarge :

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Ulysses Dietz
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iconnumber posted 05-03-2001 10:53 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Ulysses Dietz     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
This is very interesting. The connection to John C. Moore's vine designs is striking--but the forms of these pieces say to me that they could very easily have been made in the late 1830s or 1840s. There's nothing about the vine design itself that is not right out of the early romantic style of the 1840-50 years, and thus the 1848 publication event might have been exactly what these were made for. Clearly the JJA monogram looks later, but the inscription on the teapot is very 1830s-40s looking. The later monogram could simply have been added by Audubon's widow or son.

Anybody else?

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tedstickney
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iconnumber posted 05-03-2001 12:21 PM           Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Ulysses Dietz:
This is very interesting. The connection to John C. Moore's vine designs is striking--but the forms of these pieces say to me that they could very easily have been made in the late 1830s or 1840s. There's nothing about the vine design itself that is not right out of the early romantic style of the 1840-50 years, and thus the 1848 publication event might have been exactly what these were made for. Clearly the JJA monogram looks later, but the inscription on the teapot is very 1830s-40s looking. The later monogram could simply have been added by Audubon's widow or son.

Anybody else?


I agree with Mr. Dietz. Ivy was used by many smiths in the 1840's period, particularly on hollowware. The pieces look to me to be a transition from the plain rounded style of the earlier period to the ornate styles of the 1840's. The finials are striking and it seems that they may have been specially cast to commemorate the publishing of the book. If you wish to stick with the John Chandler Moore attribution, the pieces certainly fall within the 1827/1868 period he was in business. I also think that the JJA mono also could be from the 1848 period even though it looks like some of the later monograms. Ted Stickney


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Scott Martin
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iconnumber posted 05-03-2001 04:10 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Scott Martin     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I generally agree with all of the above. Ted's idea about the finials deserves some more thought and research.

Here are some random thoughts:

What I find interesting are the contrasting styles of the engraving. Clearly different hands did the text and monogram engraving.

As great as the photos are . . . I can't be sure, but it looks a bit like the leaves in the JJA cartouche could have come in contact with a buffing wheel. Maybe at a latter date, an original mono was replaced with the current JJA. I suppose the earlier mono could have also been JJA but only stylized in a different type face.

Maybe the current JJA matches a family selected style (type face) that also appears on other objects.

WEV - have you seen other engraved JJA silver? Could you or have you personally inspected the tea set for mono removal?

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wev
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iconnumber posted 05-03-2001 05:20 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for wev     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Unfortunately, I have not seen the pieces or have access to them. I will contact the museum and see if they can do a close inspection of the cartouche areas. It is my understanding that the surface is fully gilt and that it is intact without wear-through. It may very well be that the gilding was done when the JJA monograms were added -- this would explain it covering the existing wear of the leaves. The removal of an original monogram is an interesting idea. I do have one correction to make to my original description. The waste bowl is engraved with the full "To My Dear Friend..." inscription, which strikes me as odd - perhaps (given its small size) it is not a waste bowl at all, but an independent bowl for pastilles or the like. This may explain how it got seperated from the group. The creamer and sugar have the JJA alone.

I agree with both Ted and Ulysses that the basic form of the pieces is appropriate for a mid-40s date, as is the ivy motif, as well. What gave me pause was the brain-coral (for lack of a better word) patterning that I would place rather further along in the aesthetic period, though I will freely admit that this is well outside my small arena of knowledge, so my understanding of the chronologies may be askew. The suggestion of Moore was passed on to me by Brent as a possibility only. He has been doing research on this pattern and it can apparently be found with that maker's marks and with Tiffanys, with and without retailer's marks, and without marks altogether. He was good enough to send me a scan of an unmarked ladel in the identical pattern, also of unknown date, complete with cast birds, indicating that they were not specially adopted for this set.

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Brent

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iconnumber posted 05-03-2001 10:09 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Brent     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Hello All,

Sorry I did not jump in here sooner. I will try to support my assertion of the Moore origin on the morrow. Suffice it to say that items with this same exact decoration were made as early as the 1850's by Moore, and as late as the 1870's by Tiffany. The real question is whether or not this exact design could have been introduced as early as 1851. Does anyone have some 1840's comparables to share?

Here's a thought: Has the set been tested for silver content, or does the gilding make that difficult or impossible? I would suspect it is coin silver, but you never know. There is also the off chance that this is a foreign set, and that the birds, vine and stipplings were copied by Moore at a later date for other productions. The basic shapes, especially the large finials, seem rather "un-American" to my eye. Any thoughts?

[This message has been edited by Brent (edited 05-03-2001).]

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wev
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iconnumber posted 05-03-2001 10:26 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for wev     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Good to hear from you Brent -- I look forward to what you have to say about the Moore attribution. I am intrigued by the idea of a foreign origin you put forward. From the first the lid to the tea pot and sugar, and the elongated spout of the creamer, has bothered me. They seem out of proportion, the sort of exaggeration of basic form I am used to in continental wares. Bachman did travel to Europe while involved with the Quadripeds, so there is at least the occasion if not the instance. I will inquire if a silver standard test is possible.

[This message has been edited by wev (edited 05-03-2001).]

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wev
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iconnumber posted 05-04-2001 10:36 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for wev     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I had a note from the museum this morning. The various pieces will be looked at today for wear to both the pattern and the gilding. The set was previously inspected by several silver experts in Louisville and they were all of the opinion that it was coin silver.

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wev
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iconnumber posted 05-04-2001 06:14 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for wev     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I've heard back from the museum. After close inspection of the cartouche/ivy areas, they report that there is visible wear to the reposse - the veining and edges of the leaves show definate softening. The gilding, however, is intact and the surface consistant. This seems a strong indication that the set was reworked to some extent at a later date. I am not an expert on the technical process of gilding silver, but I wonder if the original maker's mark, perhaps shallowly struck, could be completely obsured in the process?

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Brent

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iconnumber posted 05-05-2001 10:36 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Brent     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Ok, here it goes....

Here is a spectacular soup ladle, which appears to be related to the set in question. The basic design elements of applied wire vines with ivy leaves, berries in groups of three, the strange serpentine stippling of the background, and the cast bird are present in both cases. The stippling is also present on the exterior of the ladle bowl, although you can not see it in the picture. The handle is reeded, and the attachment to the bowl is in the form of cast leaves. The ladle is marked only STERLING, with no trademarks or other maker's marks.

Here is another piece with the same design elements (minus the bird) , but clearly marked by Tiffany & Co. I believe this is a child's tablespoon, probably part of a christening set that might have included a cup, bowl, food warmer and a napkin ring. The marks include the "omega" m, which is believed to have been used circa 1870-1875 only. The style of the monogram supports this dating as well.

There are several known pieces of holloware, marked by Tiffany, with the same four design elements. The pattern has been called "Bird's Nest", although I do not know whether this was an official designation. Tea sets in the Bird's Nest pattern were auctioned off by Christies on January 15, 1999, and by Sotheby's on January 20, 1998. A spectacular tea set was offered by M.S. Rau Antiques in the November 1997 issue of Antiques, and a large pitcher was offered by Hartmann Rare Art in the March/April 2000 issue of Silver magazine. The decoration of these sets is remarkable consistent, although the body shapes vary considerably.

The John Chandler Moore company was producing wares in this pattern prior to their absorption into Tiffany & Co. in 1868, and it is apparent that Tiffany continued to use this decoration in later years. Date ranges given for the above mentioned articles range from 1874 to 1880 to 1895.

According to accepted wisdom, Moore entered into an exclusive contract with Tiffany in 1851, and thereafter produced goods only for Tiffany. If this is the case, then some other company was producing wares with the exact same decoration. Aside from the ladle, marked only STERLING, I have personally seen:

1.) An unmarked napkin ring, complete with a cast bird.

2.) A napkin ring with no bird, marked STERLING.

3.) A spectacular two-handled vase with identical design elements and a cast bird on each handle, maked STERLING and SHREVE, CRUMP & LOW. Shreve Crump & Low took this name in 1869, right around the time of the Moore/Tiffany merger.

I strongly suspect that some products of the Moore factory post-1851 were retailed by companies other than Tiffany, although I can not prove it. As Dr. Hood shows in his book on Tiffany flatware, the relationships among silver companies are difficult to pin down. There is probably an exception to every rule, if you look hard enough.

So how old is this particular combination of vines, birds and serpentine stippling? The recent catalog of the Museum of the City of New York silver collection provides one clue. Catalog number 376 is a Moore for Tiffany & Co. tea service with engraved ivy decoration, pattern number 1375. The description of the set, from the Tiffany & Co. Silver Record Book, reads "Tea Set ivy leaves birds/ok/Plain Chased". Options for this set include "full ivy mts. & fig. top", which I would say are the applied vines we see on the pieces mentioned above. Although the set was presented in 1869, the pattern number appears to date it to 1862-1863. Dr. Hood's book illustrates a sugar sifter #1402, made to accompany a tea service with ivy and birds #1401. Pattern #1399 is dated 1863.

So we know the pattern was used at least as early as 1863. Moore was in business for many years, starting in the 1830's. It is conceivable that the ivy and bird design was developed by him prior to 1851. Does anyone know of a piece with this design bearing the marks of J.C.M. alone? If such a piece exists, then the possibility of Moore producing the tea set before Audubon's death can not be ruled out.

As for the condition of the set, it does appear to have been messed with at some point. I would be more inclined to think that the maker's marks had been erased prior to the gilding, rather than filled in. You say there are "cat's paw" type marks on these pieces; could they be erasures?

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wev
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iconnumber posted 05-05-2001 12:48 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for wev     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Puzzles inside puzzles.

I have received a scan of the cat's paw marks. Each piece has the same pattern of marks in the same position, inside and on what would be the centerpoint of the bottom. They are fairly subtle and would not appear to be sufficient to drive out a previous mark. I suspect they result from the piece being pushed against the iron during the forming or reposse work.

So we seem to be looking at several possible scenerios:

  • A plain pattern set by an unknown maker c 1840-1850, re-worked in reposse c 1860-1870, and gilded/monogrammed c 1880-1890.
  • A set made in an early form of the ivy/fowl pattern by an unknown maker, c 1840-1850 and gilded/monogrammed c 1880-1890.
  • An ivy/fowl pattern set made c 1860-1870, replacing a lost original, and gilded/monogrammed c 1880-1890.
  • An ivy/fowl pattern set made c 1860-1870, in memorium Audubon, and gilded/monogrammed c 1880-1890.

Have I left any out?


[This message has been edited by wev (edited 05-05-2001).]

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Brent

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iconnumber posted 06-01-2001 11:39 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Brent     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote

Here is another piece, courtesy of Trefid. It is a sauce ladle, with a form that closely resembles the punch ladle shown above. However, the cast bird has been replaced with a cast fly! I wish we could pin down the maker of these wonderful objects.

[This message has been edited by Brent (edited 06-01-2001).]

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Martine

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iconnumber posted 07-08-2001 06:44 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Martine     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I just want to say that the birds on the teaset are kind of ill-defined and European-looking. The figural birds on American silver are much better cast with finer details.

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Eugenia
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iconnumber posted 04-27-2002 10:27 PM           Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I am the Gr. Gr. Gr. Granddaughter of the Rev. John Bachman, thru his son Samuel Wilson Bachman. Samuel lived in Dalton, Ga. until about 1900. He then moved to St. Petersburg, Fl. to be near his daughters. When he moved south he brought silver pieces given to him by his father, from his father's home, on the occacasion of a house fire at Samuel's home ca mid 1870's. A cream and sugar set has come down to me via his daughter Emma Maria Bachman Tyner to her daughter Sarah Tyner, spinster, and from Aunt Sarah to my mother and then to me. Along with the sugar and creamer are some very plain forks and serving spoons. The reason for my message is the sugar and creamer. The set has a base with pedestal which has four stems holding the bowl aloft. The handle is a sculptured rose with three leaves. There are four leaves on the base and curled stem with one leaf on each side of the handle which are attached to the outside of the bowl. In the center of the base and directly under the bowl is a sitting bird with raised wings sharp beak and long tail. I have always described it as an eagle?? On the bottom it has a mark which says Wilcox Silver Plate and the numbers 220. This is in a circle with what looks like two crossed tomahawks in the center. Could this have any connection to the service John Bachman gave to his friend Audubon? I also have a copy of the book, "John Bachman, Letters and Memories of His Life" written in 1888 by his grandson and finished by his daughter, Catherine L. Bachman after the grandson died. In it is described a silver purchase made for him by his daughter and son-in-law, the son of Audubon, on their honeymoon trip to England. I forget which one. I can look it up if you need it. This would indicate possibly England as the source of the Audubon set. Just a thought.

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Eugenia
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iconnumber posted 04-27-2002 10:37 PM           Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Who said Bachman was not a well to do individual? By all acounts and looking at pictures of his home and descriptions of his travels both at home in U.S. and abroad he must have been in pretty good straights. He inherited from his father in New York also. The sterling silver flatware is also from England and the marks date it 1818 and later. Again - just a thought. He also inherited through his wife. His father's and his wife's estates included several slaves which he kept. Again Just a thought.

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