An extremely fine quality late nineteenth century French solid silver-gilt seven-piece tea and coffee service by Puiforcat à Paris, each piece, but not the tray, fully hallmarked with the Puiforcat stamp and the head of Minerva facing right with the number 1 (to denote 950 purity) and also stamped underneath with the name Puiforcat Paris in capital letters but in lower case letters on the underside of the coupe. The set comprising a silver-gilt teapot, coffee pot, milk jug, covered sugar bowl, coupe and spoon and a gilt-plated tray. The coffee pot and teapot each with an eagle head spout, fluted neck, a stop-fluted scrolled ivory handle and a hinged domed cover surmounted by a floral and fluted finial above a baluster-shaped body ornamented with upright palmettes interspersed by lotus motifs supported on a spreading circular foot with stiff leaf and fluted bands. The milk jug of similar form and decorations and likewise with a conforming ivory handle and fluted neck with splayed rim. The covered sugar bowl with a more rounded body with the same domed top as the coffee and teapot, with a pair of outward scrolled silver-gilt and ivory handles cast with a rosette at either end. The circular coupe with the same palmette and lotus decorations around its body. The tray of oval form with an egg-and-dart border, with a pair of handles that conform with those of the sugar bowl, the tray centred by the Kroyer-Kielberg coat of arms portraying the steering wheel of a ship upon a helm, and within the crest two lions combatant above a Viking ship in full sail above the family motto Fidem Servabo (meaning ‘I will keep Faith’). The tray housed in its original red velvet and silk damask lined black leather case, the other six pieces in another identical case, with each case bearing an engraved plaque below the handle engraved with images of each item and their actual placing within the box, the plaque for the tray numbered 65
Paris, date circa 1890
Each piece (except for the tray) fully hallmarked.
The tray: length with handles 77 cm, width 49.5 cm.
The teapot: height without handle 21 cm.
The coffee pot: height without handle 25 cm.
The milk jug: height 14 cm.
The sugar bowl: height 17 cm.
The coupe: diameter 11 cm, height 5 cm.
The spoon: length 12.5 cm.
This superb quality tea and coffee service is without doubt one of the finest of its kind and given that all the pieces bar the tray are of solid silver gilt and of the highest purity, it would have been an extremely expensive service, only to be afforded by a very wealthy member of society. Made by the eminent Parisian silver manufacturing firm of Puiforcat, it epitomises the interest in past historical styles that prevailed in Europe during the latter part of the nineteenth century. As one art critic noted when describing the jewellery, silver table ornaments as well as tea and coffee services shown at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1881 “Louis Quatorze, Louis Quinze and Louis Seize – these motifs are all the rage” (“The Jewellery & Metalworker”, 1st March 1890, p. 78). Puiforcat, along with other leading Paris silversmiths such as Boin-Taburet, Odiot, Falize and Boucheron was one of many to exhibit a highly eclectic range of styles at this period, in which they borrowed and adapted designs from previous generations to create entirely new pieces for the luxury market. Puiforcat not only admired and made pieces that reflected past historical styles but also owned a superb collection of old gold and silver. Among those works was a silver gilt washbowl of 1719-20 attributed to the royal silversmith Nicolas Besnier which was made as part of a toilet set for Louis XIV’s daughter Françoise-Marie de Blois, duchesse de Chartres and Orléans. In addition, the firm also owned a seventeenth century gold goblet once owned by Anne of Austria which, with the washbowl and many other pieces from their collection, is now in the Musée du Louvre, Paris.
The design of the present tea and coffee service is a synthesis between the late eighteenth century Louis XVI style and that of the early nineteenth century Empire, in which classical design and decorations, such as the palmettes as well as symmetrical forms, predominate. More particularly the foliate finials look back to the Louis XVI style while the distinctive eagle head spouts are more akin to the work of the Empire silversmiths such as Biennais or Odiot. The result is a happy marriage between the two classical styles that also combine aesthetics with practicality.
The renowned firm of Puiforcat was founded in 1820 by Émile Puiforcat who worked predominantly as a cutler with his brother Pierre-Joseph-Marie Puiforcat and their maternal cousin Jean-Baptiste Fuchs at rue Chapon in the Marais district of Paris. In 1857 Émile Puiforcat along with Jean-Baptiste Fuchs registered the company’s hallmark, composed as a diamond shape centred by a pocket knife in profile, flanked by the initials E and P (for Émile Puiforcat), as seen here. In 1892 Laure Emilie Puiforcat (b. 1873), granddaughter of the firm’s founder married Louis-Victor Tabouret (son of François-Louis Tabouret). Four years later in 1902 Louis-Victor assumed management of the firm and then in 1915 he changed his surname by decree to Puiforcat-Tabouret.
Interestingly this gallery once had the pleasure of owning a similarly styled silver tea and coffee set with eagle head spouts as well as swan-shaped handles (illustrated in “Richard Redding Antiques, Antique Collection 1994”, 1993, p. 99). The latter, likewise dating from circa 1890, was retailed by the Parisian firm of Boin-Taburet, which had been founded in circa 1875 by Monsieur Taburet as senior partner and Georges Boin (b. 1845). The former was almost certainly Ferdinand-Emile Taburet whose daughter Marie Adèle Taburet married Georges Boin in 1873. Although the surnames of Ferdinand-Emile Taburet and Louis-Victor Tabouret (who ran Puiforcat) and that of his father are spelled slightly differently, one wonders if they were related. This would not be surprising given that intermarriages between one family of specialised artisans and another was very common. It would also explain the similarities between Boin-Tabouret’s tea and coffee service and the present one.
By the late nineteenth century Puiforcat had moved into the high end of the silversmithing trade, gaining particular renown for creating pieces inspired by past historical masterpieces often from within the company’s own collection. However, it was Louis-Victor and Laure Puiforcat’s son Jean Elisée Puiforcat (1897-1945) who was to establish the company within the realms of avant-garde modern silverwork during the first part of the twentieth century. Having initially trained in London at the Central School of Art, Jean Elisée Puiforcat then studied under the sculptor Louis Lejeune and joined his family’s firm after the First World War. Named as a master silversmith in 1920 and an undisputed leader of the Art Deco style he became a founding member of the Union des Artistes Modernes in 1929. With his passion for sculpture and design, he introduced a revolutionary formal language that advocated adapting form to suit function - which was also an aspect achieved by his predecessors. His clear-cut style, characterised by pure, architectural lines, notable simplicity and the marriage of solid silver with other precious materials such as exotic woods, semi-precious stones and shagreen, inspired by Art Deco, was to prove the founding stone for contemporary high-end silverwork.
Knowledge of a work of art’s former ownership is always a bonus and in this instance its provenance can be identified since the tray proudly bears the coat of arms belonging to the Kroyer-Kielberg family. More specifically they belong to Sir Ferdinand Michael Kroyer-Kielberg K.B.E. (1882-1958) who, born in Denmark, was granted these arms and crest by the London College of Arms on 16th January 1926, in which year he became a British citizen. Sir Ferdinand was a well-respected and important figure with a strong business acumen. As a successful industrialist he served as the chairman of United Molasses Co. Ltd, Athel Line Ltd and Tankers Ltd as well as chairman of Anchor Line Ltd. He was also a great philanthropist with a strong interest in the arts.
When the set was first created Sir Ferdinand was only a child and thus had not made his fortune nor was it until 1926 that his coat of arms and crest were granted to him. Thus one has to conclude that Sir Ferdinand had the coat of arms engraved on the tray when he acquired the service during the early years of the twentieth century. Interestingly the Kroyer-Kielberg family coat of arms appear on a set of six silver-gilt coupes also made by Puiforcat which were sold by Sotheby’s on 13th May 1985, lot 134. Since the six are identical in design to the coupe in this service, it can be assumed that they too once belonged to Sir Ferdinand Michael Kroyer-Kielberg.
Ferdinand Michael Kroyer-Kielberg’s surname was derived from both his father and mother’s side of the family, his father being Olaf (or Orluf) August Kielberg (1842-1927) and his mother being Annesine Marie née Kroyer (1844-1923), though Sir Ferdinand then changed it to just Kroyer in 1939. He was born on 2nd January 1882 in Skanderborg, Denmark, where his father worked as the superintendent of an orphanage. Having trained as a merchant in Skanderborg, he then went to Copenhagen, where he studied at the Niels Brock Business School from 1902 to 1904. After working in Copenhagen for two years he then spent a short period as a correspondent in Leipzig after which he emigrated to England. There he began his career working in Liverpool for Marquis, Clayton & Co. a firm of merchants and produce brokers of which he was made a partner in 1909. In 1915 Kroyer-Kielberg founded the British Molasses Co. which in 1926 he merged with The United Molasses Co. Ltd - another of his own businesses. Thereafter he continued to expand his interests internationally, which in addition to sugar included shipping, electrical items, cement and other commodities so that when he retired immediately after the Second World War he held assets worth more than a billion Danish kroner. He was however extremely generous with his wealth and over the years gave substantial amounts to good causes. For instance, in 1926 he donated his own home in Liverpool to charity so that it could be converted into a home for sick children; he also gave £25,000 to the miners fund, £10,000 to the British Legion Appeal and made many other donations including those to the Niels Brock Business School, where he had been a former student, as well as offering financial support to a number of local schools and sporting clubs in England. Even before the Second World War he had supported the Danish Club as well as the Anglo Danish Society in London and as chairman of the latter worked tirelessly during the war to support the Free Denmark Movement. He also served as Danish Ambassador to the Court of St. James and was rewarded for his efforts by being made a Knight of the Danish Red Cross. Likewise, in 1947 was awarded the British Red Cross and was knighted.
In 1910, Kroyer-Kielberg married Dora Margaret, daughter of Thomas Corfe of Mayfield Liscard, Cheshire at nearby St Hilary’s Church Wallasey. They went on to have two daughters Joan (b. 1916) and Delmira (b. 1917) followed by two sons Peter Emil (b. 1919) and Michael (b. 1923). In addition to maintaining a London residence (including one in the Aldwych, later another at Brook House, Park Lane as well as Orchard Court, Portman Square where he died in 1958) and not long after he became a British citizen, Sir Ferdinand decided to build a new country home for his family at Stockgrove Park, Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire. There, close to site of a former residence, he and his wife commissioned the architect William Curtis Green to build a large Georgian style mansion, which was one of the largest country houses to be built between the wars. They also had the whole estate landscaped to include the enlargement of the lake; beside it they erected an ornamental seat, which at each end featured the same coat of arms as here. Sir Ferdinand’s great wealth allowed him and his wife to build up a very fine art collection, of which most of the paintings were from the modern school. Among them were works by the Impressionists Alfred Sisley and Camille Pissarro as well as those by the British School such as Walter Sickert, Augustus John (e.g. The Yellow Dress now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge) and Augustus John (e.g. Still-Life with Anemones and Oranges now in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Australia).