Furniture & Decorative Arts

Collecting Irish Silver

England and Ireland have long shared a common cultural heritage, and during the period of English rule, well-appointed homes in Dublin were quick to pick up trends in fashion and design coming out of London. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries Dublin was the center for government and commerce, and the city was filled with workshops and tradesmen creating all varieties of household wares to meet the demands of a voracious growing affluent class. Trends from London were quick to move across the Irish Sea  where they were copied and modified for local consumption. Irish silver of this period is particularly well regarded for its quality and style and has become a favorite of collectors on both sides of the Atlantic.

Early Irish silver is rare and considered within the top tier of collecting. Early 18th century silversmiths created wonderful pieces in elegant forms reflecting the restrained simplicity of the time. With a smaller clientele to serve, Irish silver of this period is rarer and collectors are willing to fight to add good examples to their collections.  Last spring Doyle offered a pair of tazzas by Edward Workman dated to 1700 that attracted great interest and saw competitive bidding take their price above their estimate to sell for $16,250. Similar examples by contemporary London silversmiths would sell for less simply because they are more plentiful.

As the 18th century progressed distinctively Irish forms appear in silver. Classic examples of Georgian Irish silver that can still be found for under $1,000 include sugar bowls and cream jugs similar to examples sold by Doyle in May 2014. Richly chased and cast with flowers, foliage, birds and animals, they display the artist's creativity at its best. Irish hostesses would have proudly used these at the tea table, and today they can be used for small flower arrangements or even filled with sweets in a living room.

Doyle’s January 25 English and Continental Furniture and Decorative Arts sale will include a beautiful pair of silver soup tureens made by Dublin silversmith William Nolan in 1827. Nolan's work had been compared to his illustrious London contemporary Paul Storr, whose silver is considered the very best of Regency design. Pairs of soup tureens are uncommon and that this pair has survived together for almost 200 years through a turbulent period of world history is a remarkable feat. These tureens are majestic in scale and excellent examples of Georgian Irish silver. Clearly looking to English silver design, the tureens give subtle hints to their Irish origin: proportions are exaggerated ever so slightly and the lion mask feet, which in London would be fierce and regal, here are friendly and inviting. The tureens probably once formed part of a very grand dinner service now long dispersed. Their engraved heraldic arms for Lieutenant-General Sir Colquhoun Grant (1764-1835), K.C.B., who served with the British army at Waterloo, give a tantalizing glimpse into their history.  

Irish silver has many devoted fans, many of whom are Americans of Irish descent. They appreciate the work of their Irish countrymen and take great pride in owning pieces with a connection to their own history. Great collections have been formed in Boston and New York among the Irish diaspora. The most devoted of these collectors look to provincial towns like Cork and Limerick, where beautiful silver was made by a handful of talented artisans. Such silver is exceptionally rare, and single tablespoons by coveted makers can fetch huge prices.

Portrait of specialist Todd Sell
Senior Vice President / Appraiser, Silver, Furniture & Decorations
Furniture & Decorative Arts
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