SA's Only Antiques, Collectables And Decorative Arts Magazine
Epergne

epergnesThe word epergne is taken from the French epargne, meaning economy, and originally bore the more anglicized spelling aparn. The English epergne economizes in two ways. First, in the saving of precious space: The prevailing custom of service at the time required that much of the food be put on the table at once. Guests entering the dining room found the food in place, usually in covered entrée dishes (the dishes sometimes made with a hot water chamber), one or two kinds of fish, and one or two soup tureens. Further, around 1760 it became fashionable for the host to carve the bird or joint of meat at the table. The second way in which the epergne economized is that it made for the thrifty use of rare nuts, fruits, condiments, and other luxuries from the tropics or the East. Guests would serve themselves from the epergne, and delicacies that were not eaten were left on the centerpieces, rather than being wasted when the plates were cleared.

EPERGNES are often ornate tiered centerpiece consisting typically of a frame of wrought metal (as silver or gold) bearing dishes, vases, or candle holders or a combination of these. An epergne is a large table centerpiece consisting of a frame with extended arms or branches supporting holders, as for flowers, fruit, or sweetmeats. It may also be used as a designer object to hold candles, flowers or ornaments for a holiday etc.

IN TRADITIONAL USE, AN EPERGNE IS A FANCY WAY TO DISPLAY SIDE DISHES, FRUIT, OR SWEETMEATS, OR CAN BE USED FOR CHIPS, DIPS, OR OTHER FINGER FOODS ETC.

The epergne provides a great theater for the silversmith’s craft, but were my host and hostess aware of its original use? Of course they were. They were both serious collectors of Georgian and Early American silver.

By the eighteenth century entertaining had developed into a grand art, and the English epergne can claim a strong link to seventeenth century France and the great changes in manners which began with the French Court. This revolution greatly affected the silversmith’s output, and led to many of the articles common to the twenty-first century table. For example, foods that had previously been eaten from a common bowl with either fingers or bread came to be eaten with spoons and forks from individual plates, and by the late 1600’s there existed different plates for different foods. Further, individual chairs replaced benches at the table. Before the close of the century silversmiths found themselves making large matching services for their aristocratic patrons. A new emphasis on decorating the table led to the development of the centerpiece.

The earliest ancestor of the epergne was the surtout, a center tray holding casters, salts, oil bottles, etc., made in silver, silver-gilt, gilt bronze, ceramic, and combinations thereof. A closer relative, introduced a bit later but which coexisted with the surtout, was the fruitier, and it usually replaced the surtout toward the end of the meal. The fruitier was a tiered centerpiece with bowls for sweetmeats, which sometimes held sugar casters.

The Victorian period saw the epergne relieved of its grand position of server. The “new” style of serving, service a la russe, saw each course brought in separately, leaving more room for the display of flowers. The late nineteenth and early 20th centuries saw a brief and limited revival of epergnes in the rococo and neoclassical styles, with some very good American examples made by the Gorham Company. Still, these were intended for use as decorative objects, not for serving.

THOUGH A LOT OF EPERGNES MUST BE VIEWED TODAY BEHIND THE GLASS OF MUSEUM SHOWCASES, THERE ARE, FORTUNATELY, MANY IN PRIVATE HANDS THAT ARE STILL BROUGHT OUT FOR SPECIAL OCCASIONS. I WOULD LOVE TO TAKE NUTMEG OFFERED BY THE OUTSTRETCHED ARM OF AN EPERGNE, OR BE SERVED MY DESSERT FROM ITS CENTER BASKET THE WAY OUR ANCESTORS MIGHT HAVE BEEN, BUT I’LL SETTLE FOR ENJOYING THE BEAUTY OF THE OBJECT AND THE LOVELY FLOWERS ARRANGED IN IT.

THE AMERICAN COMPANIES THAT MADE CARNIVAL EPERGNES WERE:.

FENTON made the Vintage epergnes in two sizes, with the smaller of the two having four clusters of grapes, and the larger having five clusters of grapes. I have found the lilies are inter-changeable between the two bowls because the lily hole in both bowls sizes are the same size. I’ve never seen a small size lily and base more than 4 ¾” tall. These small Vintage epergnes come in amethyst, blue, marigold, and green, which I find to be the scarcest. The larger epergnes come in amethyst, green, and marigold. I’ve never seen a large blue epergne, although they probably exist.

DUGAN made two epergnes, and the most prized is the stately Strawberry epergne, which is only known in amethyst. At 10” in height, and 9” across the bowl, this is truly a beauty. On all I’ve seen, the lily has a piecrust edge, with the bowl being ruffled. An outstanding example can bring $1,500.00 or more in today’s market. Dugan’s other epergne is Fishnet, and it comes in amethyst and peach-opalescent. These will be found with either a 3 in 1 or ruffled edge. Depending on the iridescence and color, these bring $250 to $500 at auction. While Fishnet is pretty, in my opinion, it is not nearly as stately as Strawberry.

NORTHWOOD was the king of epergnes in America, making both Wishbone and Wide Panel. Wishbone, as with the previous mentioned epergnes, are a two piece (bowl and lily) arrangement. Wishbone comes in amethyst/purple, ice blue, ice green, marigold, white, and the most often found color, green. There has been a lime green reported. Ice blue and ice green epergnes can bring upwards of $9,000, with white bringing about $1,800, when you can find one. Northwood’s Wide Panel is the last and most majestic of the American epergnes. These beauties are a bowl and four lilies (three side lilies & one center lily). These come in amethyst, blue, green, ice blue, ice green, marigold, and white. Ice blue, ice green, and blue are the hardest to find. An ice blue example sold for $13,500 at the ACGA auction in 2007.

 

Latest Digital Issue

iPad30

download30

 

iPadissue29

download29

 

 

the-collector-issue-28

 

download2

 

 issue-25

 

download3

 

 

Digital Back Issues

Buy Digital back issues for $1

getback