From the Collection – Tiffany gold Tea Service

Tiffany & Co. (New York, New York, established 1837), Tea Service, 1905. Milwaukee Art Museum, Purchase with funds from Warren Gilson.

In any museum gallery, you will encounter rare and valuable pieces of art. We value well-designed objects for many reasons, including for their materials and craft, their aesthetic design, and sometimes the people associated with them. This luxurious Tiffany & Co. Tea Service from 1905 is a rare object with incredible value in all three categories.

It is made of solid eighteen-karat gold, making it valuable simply for the materials of its production. Tiffany produced many, many silver tea services but ones in gold are exceedingly rare because of the high cost and (arguably impractical?) softness of the metal.

This tea service also has a design that is perfectly aligned with a moment in design history. Featuring scalloped sides and classical shapes, the objects evoke tea services from America’s 18th-century colonial past, like this sugar bowl and creamer from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The “Colonial Revival” look, and its associations with what was thought to be a virtuous simpler past, was tremendously popular in American at the turn-of-the-twentieth century.

Gold service in its custom storage case. Tiffany & Co. (New York, New York, established 1837), Tea Service, 1905. Milwaukee Art Museum, Purchase with funds from Warren Gilson.

This remarkable service also is associated with a haunting story. Each of the serving pieces is marked with the monogram of its owner, Mrs. Eleanor (Elkins) Widener of Philadelphia.  In 1912, Mrs. Widener boarded a lifeboat to escape the sinking ship Titanic and watched as her first husband, George Dunton Widener, and eldest son, Harry Elkins Widener, perished with the ship.

This Tiffany & Co. gold tea service is on view in the Museum’s 20th-century design gallery on the Main level.

Mel Buchanan is the Assistant Curator of 20th-century Design. Mel’s curatorial responsibility includes interpreting, displaying, and building the Museum’s collection of craft, design, and decorative objects.

About Mel Buchanan

Mae E. Demmer Assistant Curator of 20th c Design, Milwaukee Art Museum. Lover of museums, objects, and cilantro
This entry was posted in Art, Curatorial and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to From the Collection – Tiffany gold Tea Service

  1. KDM says:

    Thank you for sharing Mel, what a gorgeous tea service.
    I have been fascinated with the Wideners ever since I read A Night To Remember.
    There seem to be art and objects associated with the Wideners in every major American Museum . . . KDM

  2. What a gorgeous tea service. It’s a real treasure. It might be impractical to produce more like this because of its cost and softness but in the long run it becomes a treasure and a work of art so I guess those reason alone are enough to compensate for the cost of its production.

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