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Antique French PUIFORCAT Sterling Silver Flatware Set, 86pc Gothic Service for 12, In Chest, c.1880s
Maker: renowned silversmith company with more than 200 years of excellence: Emile PUIFORCAT (owned now by HERMES, Paris) Era: c. 1870-1900 Monogram: D and T intertwined (T D or D T) Minerva #1 French silver mark on each piece: Total weight of .950/1000 pure sterling silver: 3718 gr. or 119.5 troy ounces Chest, included as shown (not original to this set), but period. Knives, not original but as near matching a pattern as could be hoped for and likely made to match the flatware.
The pattern has a rich Gothic feel to it, and is of finest quality. The Puiforcat name is world renowned for the quality of their design and goods, and if one were to purchase a similar heavy Puiforcat set as you see here, new today at Puiforcat, Paris, the cost would be astounding - a single tablespoon will be priced 800 euro. Look online to find the store and prices if you think it is not accurate. And the old crafted pieces like this 140 year old set are finer, to my eye and others, and are an amazing bargain. Heirloom, museum quality at your table and holding or gaining value over time. What could be better? The feel of these heavy solid silver pieces in hand, and the atmosphere they create at your table.
This is a service for 12 persons, 7-pc place setting with a large soup ladle and bonus cheese knife tucked in the bottom of the chest. Two serving pieces makes it a total of 86 pieces in the set.
A bit about French sterling flatware and the Heritage (with capital H) and Traditions (with capital T) that help define it as the best in the world:
A traditional wedding gift, these magnificent French sterling silver flatware sets were almost always packaged without knives. Why is this? Another French tradition has to do with the gift of knives or a knife as a symbol of the cutting or ending of a relationship. And no where on earth is tradition more important, perhaps, than to the French culture. So, in light of the symbolism of the gift, knives were not part of a wedding gift, not packaged or even usually made with the matching pattern of the forks, spoons in a set, and are something added later and as compliments to the table's sterling silver choice. And ever the center influence in fashion, this also opportuned the happy result of knives made in coordinating and complimenting fashion with handles of rich elegant mother of pearl, fine ivory, blond natural horn, or exotic hardwoods like ebony (a French Empire 'must') walnut, rosewood. The result is that you can add sets of knives to compliment and define your table setting.
More about knives: Louis XIV, A rennaisance man if ever there were one, The Sun King - builder of Versailles, was also the man responsible for the design of the modern table knife. Prior to his time, knives used at table were similar to knives used to kill game, fight wars, and possibly kill Kings. There was a time when knives were even banned from table for such intrigues, and it was Louis XIV's table upon which the blunt and rounded tip knives for dining were introduced to the world at large. A side note: With the massive size of the dinner fork and spoon in French sterling, one need not look to the knife as a weapon - as one of my customers once suggested, and I paraphrase here here: These things are heavy enough to kill a guest if thrown. She is correct - they weigh in nearly double the large tablespoon of, say, the equivalent set made in America by Gorham or Whiting - "Lily", which tablespoon is more closely in line size and weight-wise with the entremet spoon in French flatware.
Coq? Vieillard? Minerve? What is all this about? A very strict control system has existed in France for centuries, and is comprised of an organized system of marking precious metals such as gold and silver as to the grade and the maker. You will find tiny marks on your French sterling silver pieces that tell you much. Coq or 'cock' mark, is literally a profile of a rooster; 'vieillard', meaning old man, is literally a profile of an old man who often is referred to a Michelange (Michelangelo) owing to the fact of a resemblance. And Minerve is the profile of a female in warrier helmet. These represent the dates in which the silver item was produced. Further, within the mark you will see a tiny number, as in Minerve, a 1 by her forehead (.950/1000 purity silver) or a 2 at her shoulder (.800/1000 purity silver). These are guarantees of the quality of the silver used. By comparison, the English and American standard for 'sterling' is not higher than .935/1000 purity; Continental silver is most often .800/1000 purity. Further marks tell you the silversmith (tiny diamond-shaped losenge or punch mark) and many reference books exist within which you can research a great deal of information about the silversmith who designed the set. Some of the true 'GREATS' of history, Odiot, Puiforcat, Henin, Caron, etc., bring premium prices and Odiot remains very active today, as does Puiforcat (now owned by HERMES, Paris), whose flatware is most highly sought after and commands prices of 300 to 1500 euro per piece (per PIECE - tiny spoon to table knife).
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Susan Dean, San Marcos, CA
Antique French sterling silver, Georgian jewelry, sewing, Black Forest, etc 17th to 19th c. European
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