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Whitney Bounty
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Published: 22 October 2015

Storied Sterling | Reed & Barton Silver Highlights Americana Auction

Reed & Barton is one of the most recognizable names in the history of American silver. Over its long history, the company strived for excellence and maintained a steadfast dedication to craftsmanship, producing some of the finest Britannia metal, silver-plated and sterling silver wares of any American factory. The superior quality of the Reed & Barton product earned the company both national and international acclaim: in addition to its popularity among the American consumer, Reed & Barton received important commissions from both national and foreign governments and were the recipients of many prestigious honors and awards, including a Medal of Excellence at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition. Freeman's is pleased to offer over seventy works from the prestigious Reed & Barton archives in our November 11 auction of American Furniture, Folk & Decorative Arts.

In the 19th century, Reed & Barton provided sterling silver and silver plated wares to the emerging middle class across America in myriad forms—from heavy duty silver plated wares used in hotels and aboard ships and trains, to water pitchers found ubiquitously in Victorian family homes. Later, they proved their patriotism by undertaking several Presidential commissions, providing flatware and hollowware for several USS battleships, as well as manufacturing surgical instruments for Allied troops during the second World War. While their reputation as a quintessentially American company is well earned, Reed & Barton’s renown reached worldwide, proved by the iconic commissions for the Maharajah Barwani in India, and the Saudi Royal family in 1980.

Reed & Barton’s impressive, large-scale display case at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876 featured over a thousand of the company’s most prized wares. At a time when plating techniques were celebrated as innovative and silver plate was as highly valued as sterling, the plated productions on view were met with much critical acclaim and trumpeted for “showing the educated taste of the designer and skill of the artisan.” Reed & Barton’s silverware exhibit was highly praised as a highlight of the Exhibition that “reflect[ed] the highest honor on the manufacturer” and helped the company secure a reputation for excellence in its field.

An undeniable standout amongst its competitors’ entries and a noted masterpiece of the exhibition, Reed & Barton’s monumental Progress Vase, designed by W.C. Beattie, earned the company a Medal of Excellence. Substantial in size and ambitious in scope, the vase—a dedication to American progress—triumphed in capturing the patriotic spirit and national pride that was sweeping the country. Its unveiling at the Centennial Exhibition in the nation’s birthplace was both apt and timely, as the silver sculpture perfectly encapsulates a moment when America, having just entered its Gilded Age, was basking in the glow of its ascendancy and celebrating a century of independence and accomplishments.

Freeman’s sale of the Progress Vase marks the return of this important centerpiece to the Philadelphia stage upon which it was first set. It is a privilege for Freeman’s, as a company that was in existence for the original exhibition of the Progress Vase, to showcase the vase nearly a century and a half later, alongside seventy-three other lots from the Reed & Barton Archives. From original design drawings and cast bronze and metal master molds to a ‘Francis I’ sterling tea service and a fine silver-plated model of a horse and sulky, the collection from the archives of Reed & Barton provides a unique insight into the history, workings and methodology of one of America’s most important silver firms and serve as a testimony to the progress that this quintessentially American company achieved in its near 200 year existence.  Freeman’s aims to honor Reed & Barton’s longstanding legacy, its rich history, and its undeniable contribution to the nation’s silver, design, and manufacturing industries.

Browse the Auction Catalogue - Property from the Reed & Barton Archives Lots 250-323

Images: Lot 261 Illustrated Catalogue, 1885: Reed & Barton Artist Workers in Gold and Silver Electroplate; Lot 266  The Progress Vase: A Magnificent Sterling Silver and Silver-plated Centerpiece; Lot 320  The original manufacturing samples for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games medals.

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