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Home | Articles | Tiffany & Co. Beverage Service, 1879; Collection of the Museum

n Christmas Eve, 1879, more than one thousand New York City public school teachers gave their former superintendent Henry Kiddle (1824–1891) this handsome beverage service [Fig. 1], together with a large tray, as a tribute of their respect. After forty years as an educator with an unblemished official record, Kiddle had been forced from office in the fall of 1879 following the publication of his book, Spiritual Communications. According to the New York Times, opponents severely criticized his “peculiar book on spiritualism and his views on the subjects of spooks.”

Fig. 1: Five-Piece Tea and Coffee Service in Tamarind Pattern. Tiffany & Co., New York, 1879. Sterling silver chased
with sunflowers and leaves. Coffeepot: H. 10/1/8 inches.
Courtesy, Museum of the City of New York; bequest
of Alfred M. F. Kiddle; photography by John Parnell.

Described as “an elegant affair with the most elaborate repoussé chasing in the Persian style,” the Kiddle service was on exhibition in the showrooms of Tiffany & Co. at Union Square after its presentation so that the many donors could inspect it. Each piece of the service is engraved in script on the underside of its base with the initials “HK” and is struck with the incuse marks “TIFFANY & CO./3650 MAKERS 8920/STERLING-SILVER/925-1000/M.” The rectangular tray with cast laurel-and-bead loop handles (not illustrated) is engraved on its upper surface: “Presented/to/Mr. Henry Kiddle/by the/Teachers of the Public Schools/of the/City of New York/Christmas 1879.”

Tiffany & Co. records identify the service as “Tamarind” pattern, chased all over with sunflowers and leaves. The tamarind is a tropical tree found in the East Indies; its pinnate leaves may have inspired those employed in the service’s decoration. The overall detailed floral repoussé patterns are characteristic of the middle phase of
Tiffany & Co.’s Islamic-style designs. The floral-scroll decorative border applied to the rim of the tray is not en suite with the chasing of the service pieces. Tiffany & Co. may have engraved a tray from its stock to complete the service.

Deborah Dependahl Waters joined the Museum of the City of New York as curator of decorative arts in 1986. A graduate of the Winterthur M.A. Program in Early American Culture, she obtained her Ph.D. in the History of American Civilization from the University of Delaware.

Curator’s Choice is a regular feature that highlights a museum object currently off view, providing the rare opportunity for a behind-the-scenes curatorial tour.

1 This article is based on the entry included in Deborah Dependahl Waters, ed., Elegant Plate: Three Centuries of Precious Metals in New York City, 2 vols. (New York: The Museum of the City of New York, 2000), vol. II, no. 380, pp. 556–57; tray illustrated, p. 557; The New York Times, October 2, 1879, 8:3.

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