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Coffeepot

Tiffany & Co. (American, b. 1837–present)

1893

Medium silver with enamel decoration, ivory, and jade Measurements H: 10 x W: 6 1/8 x D: 3 in. (25.4 x 15.56 x 7.6 cm) Credit Decorative Arts Purchase Fund Accession Number 83.16.2 Location Not on View

Narrative

By the second half of the nineteenth century, American silver manufacturers were world leaders in design and production. Firms like Tiffany & Co. found international exhibitions ideal for promoting their merchandise to the public. This Tiffany coffeepot, shown at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, bears the fair's special exhibition mark on the base. Tiffany's designers, creators of some of the most spectacular silver objects of the nineteenth century, were often inspired by historical styles and distant cultures. A taste for things Egyptian arose alongside the taste for those of other ancient Mediterranean civilizations, namely Greece and Rome. Events such as the opening of the Suez Canal (1869) and the premiere in Cairo of Verdi's opera Aida (1870) focused attention on Egypt. This Egyptian-style coffeepot is decorated with detailed geometric patterns in yellow, amber, green, and shades of blue enamel. The stylized lotus and palm fronds at the coffeepot's rim and the chased and engraved flowers and foliage on the body were popular Egyptian motifs. The perceived exoticism of Egypt is also apparent in the onion shape of the lid, the dramatic, sweeping curves of the spout and handle, and the cast cobra motif on the hinge. This one-of-a-kind object, used for the fashionable ritual of coffee drinking in a late-nineteenth-century domestic setting, would suggest the mystique and romanticism of the distant continent where the custom originated.