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Author Topic:   Grape Silverplated Flatware

Posts: 2132
Registered: Nov 2002

iconnumber posted 06-25-2006 11:23 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dale     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Since the topic of grape silver comes up here, this is a little consideration of what I know about the subject. Generally in silverplate, grape refers to those pieces that have a pattern or design that incorporates grapes, grape leaves and vines into the handle of the piece. There is a great deal of hollowware with a grape motif, as frequently discussed here.

But for the silverplate dealer or collector, grape means patterned flatware. More precisely, it is the three major grape patterns: 1847 Rogers Vintage aka Vintage Grape; 1881 Rogers LaVigne and American Universal Silver's Moselle. These three patterns are the most collected of silverplate patterns. And they appear to set off the interest that sustains the demand for grape motif silver.

What is intriguing is that despite all of the interest, and all of the selling, of the grape patterns has never moved a silver company to actually reissue these patterns. Instead they stand for something, which I suspect is not really a silverphile interest but rather a form of sentimentalism.

What these three patterns have in common is that they were very successful when new. For Vintage estimates of sets produced run into the millions. Which was a lot of silverware in pre World War I America. Moselle and LaVigne were almost as popular. The time frame for them is from the early 1900's into the early 1920's. They are Art Nouveau in style, with flowing grapes and leaves. The designs are nicely executed, with fancy extra pieces having more extravagant decoration.

The dates on this are of interest. Vintage came out in 1904, Moselle in 1906 and LaVigne in 1908. Beyond that IS claimed, through its historian Edmund Hogan, that Vintage was discontinued in 1918. For the other two we have no information on ending dates.

And the term "discontinued" is itself not very clear. It could mean that all production ceased. Leaving a huge inventory of pieces that were gradually plated and sold over the next few decades. Or, discontinued can mean that the pattern was no longer advertised as a current one. But had limited production runs in response to demand and special orders. Again, discontinued can indicate that the dies were destroyed and no further production was possible. Yet further, discontinued can indicate that the company had moved on to newer designs. Leaving the availability of the pattern an open question.

Further complicating the situation is that after World War II both Oneida and IS had a last chance offer on their patterns. From what I have seen this consisted of a brochure with pictures of each company's patterns with instructions on ordering. The catch was that there was no promise of availability for any particular piece. This seems like a rather strange way to conduct business. The firm offers to make items from its historic production but declines to state what is and is not available. The customer has to send in a request. If there are enough requests, the company will check to see if they can locate the die in question. If they can find it, and there is enough interest, they will produce the silver. Payment in advance was requested when the company figured out what it could make. A great deal of silverplate was made in response to this offer. And no one ever kept any records of what was made.

Now, look at these dates of introduction again. They give us silver anniversary dates ranging from 1929 to 1947. And golden anniversary dates from 1954 to 1972. Which is relevant to some features of the silverplate business. As distinct from the sterling business: they are to my mind very different types of enterprises.

Silverplate flatware was sold as a brand name product. The makers here were nationally advertised brand names. For International Silver, 1847 Rogers was the premier mark of the company. It was a widely advertised brand. The radio program the International Silver Hour featured its stars Ozzie and Harriet Nelson who lived at 1847 Rogers Lane. The mark came from the Meriden Brittania Company. Most Vintage bears the old MB circle with scales mark in addition to the 1847 Rogers mark.

Oneida used 1881 Rogers as its popular priced label. Much was sold through mail order catalogs and mass retailers. Additionally, when a pattern reached the end of its marketability this way, Oneida frequently continued to produce the pattern for use in promotional and premium marketing. I have seen sets that were given away with purchases of dining room sets in the late 20's and early 30's which consisted of patterns that had not been available at retail for decades. It now appears that 1881 Rogers has become a stainless steel mark. (Oneida seems to recycle more than other silver makers. There are at least 3 patterns that use the name Patrician under the Oneida mark.)

American Silver, and its brand Universal, were sold on a smaller scale than the other two. From what I have gleaned it was somewhat upscale, being carried by jewelers and better mail order houses. Additionally, Moselle was a popular restaurant pattern for many years. Commercial patterns tend to be produced for long periods of time.

What the silver companies relied for their sales was a cycle of silver usage. Couples would purchase their first set when they married. At the 25th anniversary, the silver one, people would either expand and bolster the original set or they would move on to a sterling one. At the 50th anniversary, the golden one, people would begin to consider passing the set onto a new generation. This was the support for silverplate manufacturers from right after the Civil War down into the 1960's. When the world changed. The forms and styles of living that had sustained the silver market for a century changed so quickly in ways the silver makers could not adjust to.

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iconnumber posted 06-26-2006 01:07 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dale     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Here are pictures of the three patterns.




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iconnumber posted 06-26-2006 10:52 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for FWG     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Dale, thanks for that excellent disquisition on the grape flatware patterns! Here in the Finger Lakes wine country we see mostly Vintage and LaVigne; Moselle is much less often seen. And they're all almost always just called 'grape pattern' locally, and seem to be often mixed in an individual service (in contemporary usage, that is - the old sets are generally a single pattern). As I noted before in one of the other threads these were immensely popular and always brought a premium around here for years, because of the symbolic connection to the wine business, but in the last few years that seems to have dropped off. It may just be the general economic conditions of the region, or a change in tastes and styles; I haven't been able to get a read on the causes.

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iconnumber posted 07-04-2006 11:00 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dale     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote

This is the pattern that usually is referred to as "Vintage Grape". The name given by International Silver was plain "Vintage". It was introduced in 1904 and made until 1918. It appears that at the end several huge runs were made of Vintage. This created a stockpile that was then sold into the early 1920's.

"Vintage" was the single most successful silverplated pattern of its time. And the second most successful for IS; only First Love sold more sets. Which when considered in terms of pre WW1 America, is interesting. Tradition tells us that sets were sold numbering in the millions. Since the records of IS have never been searched on this topic, if there even are records, we are left with gossip and conjecture.

When new, "Vintage" was sold in sets consisting of 6 dinner forks, 6 teaspoons, 6 oval soup / place spoons and 6 tablespoons. Knives were available, usually as an add on. There were the flat handled with the design going into the handle and the hollow handle with a richly pushed out pattern. It seems the hollow handle were enormously popular: they still can be found in profusion. Blades were the old silverplated type, simple steel ones are comparatively rare.

In "Vintage", there are over 100 distinct pieces, both serving and place. The array of items is something that does spur collectors on. Complete services can be assembled, which can lead to sets with 300 or more pieces. (Strangely, strawberry forks were not made in "Vintage" even though other 1847 patterns of the time have them.) The book "Grape Nuts" by Susie MacLachlan covered the subject. It was published in the early 1970's. My late friend Roger Hubka then reissued the book in the early 1990's. Of all silverplate patterns "Vintage Grape" appears to have attracted the most study and scrutiny.

The most typical mark here is 1847 Rogers Bros with the circular mark of the Meriden Brittania Company. This is followed by the bewildering variety of plating standard marks. Which are not very well understood. Additionally, many sets have been re-plated, frequently under the IS guarantee offer, so the plating can be an old one. (1847 Rogers issued a guarantee to re-plate the silver for something like 50 years after purchase; they honored this guarantee into the late 1960's.)

"Vintage Grape" stands up well to use. The design retains crispness and clarity even after 90 years of use. Usually the knife blades need replacing. Monograms do appear on the pattern, in all styles. Removal during re-plating is usually successful. Most monograms I have seen appeared to be factory applied ones.

This pattern was enormously popular both during its production and afterwards. Beginning in the 50's, interest in it surged. "Vintage Grape" became one of the mainstays of the silverplate antique trade. The pattern was findable, usually in good condition and highly saleable. Some buyers were collectors, most were filling out Grandma's set. Which fits with the dates mentioned above. The pattern became collectible just as the initial buyers had their Golden Anniversary. Which frequently matches with the breakup of housekeeping. People were beginning to receive bits and pieces of family silverplate. And with "Vintage Grape" they wanted more.

Faced with this renewed interest, International Silver ignored the requests from jewelers, table top retailers and the public to reissue the pattern. Finally, sometime in the 60's a small run of the demitasse spoon came on the market. These are identical to the old ones, with the added IS mark. Since this was before the rise of gourmet coffee drinking, this flopped dramatically. Salad forks would have been a big hit, in my humble opinion. This is just another piece in the puzzle that was International Silver. When faced with a rising demand for one of its old standard patterns, they elected to ignore customers with money in hand.

Most people who buy the pattern use the name "Vintage Grape" when asking for it. This term is also useful when searching the well known auction site, as the term "Vintage" alone brings up thousands of unrelated items.

In its initial run, there was no hollowware sold as "Vintage". The pattern stood as flatware only. Sometime in the 1930's IS put out a line of hollowware using a grape motif. The design here was very different from the older pattern. This is however marked "Vintage" with IS. There is a punch ladle that goes with the punch bowl. It is different from the 1904 one.

Memory and sentiment drive the market for 'Vintage Grape'. It has a reputation of being Grandma's pattern, with all the fondness and pleasant recommendations that involves. Even though for most people it would be great great grandma's, the sentiment still is there.

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iconnumber posted 07-04-2006 11:01 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dale     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Moselle presents problems in terms of research. The company that produced it, American Silver, did not leave much of a trace. It succeeded Holmes and Tuttle in 1901. From then into the early teens it produced a number of Art Nouveau patterns. After WW1, production appears to have slacked off. Standard references show one pattern introduced in the 20's and one in the early 30's. By 1935, American Silver had become part of IS. Rainwater shows this as a purchase, but given the times it could also be a consignment to avoid bankruptcy. There are, as far as I can tell, no studies or histories of the company. Or of its products.

The pattern Moselle is probably the most sought after of the grape patterns. It is crisply detailed with sharply lined grapes and leaves. Of all the grape patterns, Moselle is the most expensive. The pattern was made for a long time. This guess is based on the stories of people who owned it. Likely, Moselle was made into the 1920's. And perhaps until the end of the firm's business. It was a pattern used in better restaurants, as evidenced by surviving monogrammed pieces. Usually this indicates a long commercial run.

What is known is this. Moselle exists in a wide range of pieces. It is usually in good shape, but there can be a tendency to wear on the high spots. It frequently features good old replating with later blades. Moselle for no clear reason is rarely monogrammed. Fish and salad servers can be found with mother of pearl handles, as can some of the fancier place pieces.

One interesting feature is the fruit or citrus spoon. There are two types: one with an ornate bowl and one with a plain bowl. Why the two bowls is again not clear. Clayne Crousen, one of the earliest silverplate dealers maintained that when dies were worn and had to be replaced, the new die was always plainer than the old one. Ken Diebel, who was one of the first silverplate scholars maintained that the fancy ones were not practical for eating: the company made both types at the same time. It is typical of silverplate research that there is no answer to what should be a rather simple question. We are left with inference and educated supposition. There are no records known that would settle the matter.

Moselle tends to be a substantial pattern, with heft and strength. Which is unlike all the other patterns made by American Silver that I have ever seen. The companion pattern, Nenuphar, a water lily design is noticeably smaller and lighter. Moselle is an oddity in its maker's production.

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iconnumber posted 07-05-2006 12:59 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dale     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
FWG, don't know if there is a lull in the grape silverplate market. It has always been rather strong demand,but with ups and downs. Generally the market is in the West and the South, not the Northeast. Thanks for the interesting observations.

I hope others will have thoughts on the subject and post, please.

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iconnumber posted 07-09-2006 10:57 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dale     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
LaVigne is the most difficult of the major grape patterns to get an understanding of. It is light weight, does not have a top of the line brand name and exists in profuse quantities which invariably lack hollow handle knives. Salad forks are scarcer than in the other patterns, as are most of the other fancy extra pieces, IMHO. Some of the problems can be addresses by looking at its maker, Oneida.

Oneida does not keep records the way the other makers do. There is no historical path that can be found in the company's documents. Several people I know have tried and run into this brick wall. So, we are left with inference from catalogs, ads and so forth. And with the existing body of silver flatware. Additionally, Oneida was never very interested in the sterling business. Stainless, however, drew their attention early on and spurred an aggressive campaign. Which probably explains why Oneida is still in business. Oneida became the primary source for the nation's largest retailer of flatware, Betty Crocker, in the 60's. It is probably helpful to classify Oneida as not in the silver trade but the flatware business, which is a very meaningful distinction in looking at the companies production.

The Oneida company traces its history back to the Oneida Community, a perfectionist communal group. Initially, they produced flatware in steel, selling some to be plated by MBCo. In 1901 Oneida introduced its high end brand Community. This line had one Art Nouveau pattern, numerous Art Deco and Colonial Revival designs and some Mid Century Modern ones. Oneida has had numerous other brands, most generate within the company. There is virtually no production in any of these lines prior to 1900.

LaVigne comes from the 1881 Rogers product line, which was Oneida's popularly priced offering. The production under this name begins in 1898, and continues today in stainless. Sometimes the 1881 seems unconnected to history.

1881 flatware was widely sold and promoted in a number of ways. The standard set consisted of 6 each flat handled knives, dinner forks, teaspoons, tablespoons and oval soups spoons with a butter knife and sugar shell. This came in a distinctive, almost cube like box, that exists in large numbers. Oneida used this box well into the 30's for a number of its lesser brands. All the other manufacturers either did not have a distinctive box form or did not fool around with silver chests, leaving it up to the retailer. What this suggests is that Oneida came up with a "silver to go" concept. The purchaser got a box, one that was distinctive and memorable, along with just enough silver for ordinary dining. This would have been rather different from the array of choices other makers offered. All you needed to do was select a pattern and get the box of it. Other makers offered a wide array of pieces so buyers could assemble a set, and then choose from a selection of boxes. The two approaches require different amounts of time and knowledge of silver. Just about anyone could get an Oneida box; some knowledge was required to buy the others. Which suggests to me that men were represented among Oneida buyers. A great way to buy a present for a girlfriend without knowing much about silver. He couldn't do so with the other makers style of retailing.

"Fancy extra's" were available in groups of 6 along with individual serving pieces. The ordinary servers are quite plentiful in LaVigne. But the more esoteric ones are scarce. Same with the place settings. Buying Oneida tableware was a quick transaction compared to the other makers.

Frequently, LaVigne is in really bad condition. It is rarely monogrammed. But condition is all over the place. It looks like much LaVigne was used every day for long periods of time. Which brings up another distinctive feature of Oneida. From what I can tell after looking at thousands of pieces over many years, Oneida had a different approach to quality control. The Oneida system was to send out pieces that did not have glaring faults. The company would then replace items when customers complained. If there were too many problems, the pattern was quickly terminated. And the customers were offered a whole new set. Which is why the length of time patterns were made varies so much for Oneida but not International. Both Hampton Court and Paul Revere appear to have had this treatment: quick design and production, problems reported and termination. This implies a much faster design to market time than the other companies had. And a less sophisticated customer base. It is not unusual to find Oneida pieces new in wrappers with the outer tines shorter than the inner. Customers who were knowledgeable would have returned these quickly. Oneida's customers apparently did not see the defect here. This is very different from all the other silverplate makers.

Additionally, Oneida varies in size and proportion. In LaVigne the number of grapes per cluster varies with specific pieces. On the fruit spoons the number can be 6,7 or 8. Which shows an approach to making dies that is considerably different from the other makers. LaVigne pieces do vary in size more than comparable pieces from other makers. Which results in sets that have a variety of sizes of teaspoons, dinner forks and so on. The differences are usually not huge, but enough to be noticeable to someone who really looks hard.

Oneida was a newcomer to the world of flatware in 1901. It had to come up with its retail outlets at a time when almost all tabletop retailers were committed to one major company or another. So, it appears that Oneida went outside the box, to new ways of selling flatware. General stores, small jewelers, jewelers who did not deal much in tabletop lines, catalogs, party plans, coupon redemption appear to have been the general thrust of Oneida's marketing, which was away from the usual jewelry trade venues.

All of which is to say that LaVigne presents a different type of silverplate pattern than Vintage or Moselle. In all the years I have handled silverplate I do not believe I have run into more than 3 dozen hollow handle LaVigne knives. Which seems very odd. Until I reflect that Oneida sold in a different way, to a different audience, through different outlets than the other makers.

It appears that LaVigne was made for about 25 years, down into the late 20's at least. It seems to have been Oneida's practice to produce popular patterns without problems for long periods of time. What varied was the way they were sold. At first, a pattern would go through the regular channels. Then as taste changed and styles became outmoded, new approaches came into being. I have encountered sets of LaVigne that were a promotional gift with the purchase of a dining room set. Or won in a contest. Or bought at a dime store in the 20's.

Looking it over, my impression is that Oneida was in early years not likely to be sold in better jewelry stores. Instead someone like Diamond Dan the Dealing Man would have carried the line. Which suggests that Oneida was willing to engage in price competition which the other makers avoided.

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iconnumber posted 07-16-2006 11:17 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dale     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote

Reed and Barton produced one grape pattern, Sheffield, which was introduced in 1910. The pattern is a crisply defined series of grapes arranged around the edges. The effect is quite striking. The back uses the pattern from Modern Art, which is a very unusual practice. Generally silverplate patterns have their own distinctive fronts and backs.

There does not seem to be much of this on the market. So scarce might be a good adjective. The pattern stands up well to use and is usually in good condition.

Here again one of the peculiarities of the silverplate market enters in. Sheffield was produced both for home use and as a commercial pattern. Reed and Barton had a portion of the market for restaurants, hotels and steamships. The firm produced fancy silverplate for these venues. Which is something the other companies did not do: most of the IS and Oneida commercial silverplate is on the plain side.

But Reed and Barton made at least three ornate Art Nouveau patterns for commercial use: Tiger Lily/ Festivity, Modern Art and Sheffield.

This then has an effect on when the pattern was discontinued. Modern Art was used by Bauer's restaurant in Denver into the mid 1970's when Bauer's went out of business. Which means that the pattern was made until at least that time. The Brown Palace Hotel used Tiger Lily into the 1990's, giving a time range on that pattern of 90 years. Sheffield was made up until 1941 at the earliest, and probably available into the 1950's.

And when a pattern is available for commercial use, some leaks into the home market. Which results in long periods of production, and a difficulty in saying when production ceased.
Another effect is that pieces used in better restaurants are plentiful while more home style ones remain scarce.

As far as I can tell, this practice is Reed and Barton's alone. No other maker produced high style, ornate flatware for commercial use.

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iconnumber posted 11-02-2006 04:39 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for venus     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Nice post Dale and very timely. I just bought 4 serving spoons today and my next stop after the forum was to Google for the pattern. Your good pictures and nice history saved me a step.

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