An Origin Story of a Home Decor Classic

An Origin Story of a Home Decor Classic

Posted by Kim Ahara on 6/21/2014 to Research
An Origin Story of a Home Decor Classic

What Makes a Classic? 

(Hint: Imitation is the Most Sincere Form of Flattery)

I've always liked these vintage silver plated baskets. In my opinion, they epitomize the golden rule of William Morris, 
"Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."

I see versions of this classic design everywhere—from thrift shops, estate and garage sales, to the occasional auction. These silver plated decorative bowls and baskets never fall far out of favor as the pieces make ideal and inexpensive house-warming, wedding, and hostess gifts. The simple and elegant form elevates the display of whatever it holds, think bread, fruit, napkins, washcloths, hand-towels, and /or soap. In other words, the baskets wrangle household items into a more functional and stylish overall composition. 

But where did this ubiquitous design come from?

During the 20th century, these baskets were produced by American firms including Paul Revere Silversmiths, Gorham Manufacturing Company and W. S. Blackinton. Similar pieces were exported to the U.S. from companies headquartered in Italy, Germany and China. A quick google search will show just how many art metal manufacturers offered their take on this perennially popular design.

I recently visited the galleries of my Alma Mater, the Winterthur Museum and Gardens, and came face-to-face with the basket once again. This time there was a key difference: I was looking at a genuine antique in sterling silver by Samuel Williamson of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Williamson produced this objects at some point between 1794 and 1813, making the design more than 200 years old!

I suspect the design may be older. Does anyone know of an earlier example? If so, PLEASE share in the comments below.

Good design is tasteful, timeless and often replicated as imitation IS the most sincere form of flattery

Happily, 20th century versions of this 200 year old design are readily available and will almost never break the bank :)

For more information, here is a link to the piece in the Winterthur collection: Samuel Williamson Sterling Silver Basket

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