When I started my adventure in the world of antiques, I remember often hearing the
phrase “Aesthetic” or “Aesthetic Movement” used to describe pieces which to me seemed
completely unrelated. What did these pieces have in common, and what was it that made
In time I learned that the Aesthetic Movement took place at the end of the Victorian era, from about 1870 to 1900. It was a movement that emphasized “art for art’s sake”.
Figuring out how to identify a piece of American Aesthetic Movement silver took a bit
longer. Unfortunately there are no telltale marks that give away a piece as Aesthetic, but
there are some key stylistic elements that can help you determine if your piece falls into
this important and influential movement.
Natural motifs – Whether it be handles wrought in the form of scrolling vines, engravings
featuring chrysanthemums, cherry blossoms, and flowering dogwood branches, or gourd-
shaped teapots crawling with insects, fish, and turtles, the silversmiths of the Aesthetic
movement loved incorporating images from the natural world. Other favorite decorative
elements include birds, feathers, acanthus leaves, and flowers of all varieties.
Eastern Influences (especially Japanese) – Designs and decorations that evoke the Far
East were very popular during this period. Japan had just opened up to trade with the
Western world, creating a craze for goods done in the Japanese taste. Persian, Moorish,
and Indian elements were also part of the Aesthetic style. You can see this influence
reflected in Tiffany’s Japanese and Persian patterns and Whiting’s Alhambra pattern.
Matte finishes – Pieces with a matte, or satin, finish or a combination of matte and high
finishes were popular during this period. The silver will have a soft, lightly textured
appearance. Usually the decoration will be done in shiny, bright cut engraving that really
stands out against the dull matte background.
Greek key motifs and other repeating geometric designs – These types of geometric die
rolled decoration can often be found on the rim or the base of your Aesthetic movement
Maker – Some makers figured more prominently in the Aesthetic movement than others.
Silver companies who commonly produced pieces in the Aesthetic style include Tiffany,
Gorham, Whiting, Dominick & Haff and Wood & Hughes.
Monograms in Gothic script – Obviously the style of the monogram by itself does not
guarantee an Aesthetic movement piece, but for whatever reason, many Aesthetic pieces
seem to be monogrammed in Gothic script. If your piece is engraved with a date from
the 1870s through the 1890s that would be a hint too!