Ice Cream Plate from Mackay Service

Tiffany & Co.

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 774

This silver ice cream dish and accompanying plates are part of one of the most renowned and lavish dinner services ever created in America. Commissioned in 1877 by John W. (1831-1902) and Marie Louise Hungerford (1843-1928) Mackay, the dinner service for twenty-four consisted of over 1,250 pieces. A poor Irish immigrant with little education, John W. Mackay became one of the wealthiest men in America when he and three partners, James Fair, James Flood, and William O’Brien, struck a silver deposit known as "The Big Bonanza" at Nevada’s Comstock Lode in 1873. During a visit to the mine, Marie Louise asked her husband for a silver dinner service "made by the finest silversmith in the country." Her husband responded, "You shall have it. I like the notion of eating off silver brought straight from the Comstock." He proceeded to have a half ton of silver delivered from the mine to Tiffany & Co., where two hundred men worked for almost two years to complete the commission. In 1878 the service was sent to be featured in Tiffany’s award-winning display at the Paris Exposition Universelle before being delivered to the Mackay’s home at 9 Rue de Tilsitt near the Arc de Triomphe. In an era of extravagant social affairs, Mrs. Mackay’s dinners and balls were legendary. Identified in firm records as "Indian," "Persian," and "Sou Chow" in style, the Mackay service reflects the sophisticated and innovative design sensibilities of Edward C. Moore, the head of Tiffany’s silver division, and the team of designers, chasers, and craftsmen who conceived and realized this commission. The descriptor "Sou chow" was used at Tiffany for designs featuring elaborately chased decoration inspired by Chinese, Japanese and Indian sources, all of which were extensively represented in the vast collection of works of art Moore assembled to inspire and educate himself and his staff. The masterfully chased ornament featuring a dense composition of flowers flowing into sinuous elephant trunk feet embodies Gilded Age extravagance and would have offered a dazzling finale to a meal served on a sea of silver featuring an inventive combination of Asian, Near Eastern, and Indian artistic vocabularies and aesthetic sensibilities.

Ice Cream Plate from Mackay Service, Tiffany & Co. (1837–present), Silver, American

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