Michael Weller Silver Seminar: American Flatware - American Nineteenth-Century Flatware: Jewelry of the Table

William Hood, Dothan, AL

Sunday, August 16, 2009Mini-exhibit: 11:00amLecture: 2:00pmGould Theatre, Palace of the Legion of Honor
Legion of Honor

American silver flatware of the second half of the 19th century is characterized by diversity in forms and decorative styles. Victorian America adopted the newly popular Russian formal dining style, service à la russe, serving each major course separately. An accompanying fashion was to serve and eat each course or major food item with form-specific flatware designated for a specific function. The types of serving pieces ranged from asparagus tongs to berry spoons and melon forks, from terrapin forks and sardine forks to fish knives; sorbet spoons and dessert knives. In some cases, there was more than one form for a given food or course; for example, macaroni (meaning pasta) had its own serving fork, knife and spoon. By the end of the 19th century, it was common for a given pattern of flatware to offer at least a hundred different piece types, and some offered many more.

The favorite decorative styles of this period were “revivals.” Neoclassical styles recalled classical, rococo revival recalled rococo styles. New styles, such as Japanese, were eagerly accepted at the 1876 Centennial in Philadelphia (the subject of William Hosley’s August, 2002 “Japonism in America”). Decoration became increasingly elaborate, often combining several, eclectic styles. Some of the fanciest silver pieces were produced in limited quantities because of their detail and great cost. Today these rare specimens are highly prized by collectors.

Dr. Hood’s lecture will showcase some of the rarest and most beautiful examples of American flatware from the late 19th century—-jewelry of the table—-when American dining was formal, elegant and theatrical. This lecture will showcase examples of American flatware by Tiffany & Company, Gorham, Whiting, George S. Shiebler, William B. Durgin and other companies.

Dr. Hood graduated from Clemson University and the Medical University of South Carolina. After a stint in the U.S. Army, including service in Korea, he completed residency training in internal medicine at South Carolina and a cardiology fellowship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Hood joined the faculty at Chapel Hill before engaging in practice, teaching and researching at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He practiced cardiology in Dothan, Alabama until he retired in 1999.

About 25 years ago, Dr. Hood’s love for cooking and an interest in food presentation lead to his collecting silver flatware. Upon retirement, his hobby became his new vocation. His flatware interests include American 19th century silver flatware, especially by Tiffany & Company, and contemporary flatware, including stainless steel, by prominent designers.

Intrigued by silver, but disappointed by the dearth of scholarship on Victorian flatware, Dr. Hood conducted his own research at the Tiffany archives in Parsippany, New Jersey. The result is “Tiffany Silver Flatware, 1845- 1905: When Dining Was an Art” (2000) with Roslyn Berlin and Edward Wawrynek. His prolific contributions to Silver Magazine and The Magazine Antiques include research on specific patterns, special forms such as sardine, fish and asparagus servers, and the stylistic effects of Japonism.

11:00am mini-exhibit

Let your silver shine. If it’s silver and ornate, the new pattern for your serving pieces and flatware is “mini-exhibit.”


Gould Theatre, Palace of the Legion of Honor, Lincoln Park, San Francisco. Enter at the west side lower level near the café, or through the main entrance for day-time events.