Chased Silver | Vintage Silver Terminology

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“The term chased silver I find some what obscure and is often paired with the Repousse line or its many similar styles (Ie. Stieff Rose etc). From what I understand chased describes decoration after the silver has been pressed into the mold to create the pattern, then it is somehow hand tooled to heighten the details. But how and to what extent and with what tools? Can you tell it is hand done from the finished piece like you can tell fine porcelain was hand painted?” – Elizabeth

chased silver

Chased silver or repouseé?

My opening post on vintage silver terminology yielded a whopping great question from Elizabeth. I have taken the liberty of dividing her question into pieces and am actually starting at the back.

Chased Silver

You are correct Elizabeth in thinking that you see the term repoussé applied to a lot of places where it might not in fact be 100% accurate.  Additionally the technical term and the Kirk Pattern have also added confusion to the mix.  Both repoussé and chasing create pieces that have highs and lows to create a relief pattern.

At it’s core, the best way to explain the difference is that repoussé is done from the back of the metal and working up, whereas chasing is done from the front and works down so too speak.

Harold Newman in An Illustrated Dictionary of Silverware says”

“Chasing. The technique of decorating by handwork the front surface (my emphasis added) of an article of silver by indenting it and so raising the design (without cutting into the metal and removing any of it as in engraving), using a great number of differently shaped tracing tolls (‘tracers’) and a chasing hammer.”

He goes on to describe some specialist or sub-categories of chasing, one of which is germain to your question Elizabeth….”When used to enhance from the front a design made by casting, by sharpening or adding details not satisfactorily formed by the casting process, it is called cast chasing.”

Hand Made or Not

chased silver

That’s unambiguous, but sadly rare.

I think this is an area in which most people are going to have a lot of trouble distinguishing hand made from manufactured unless there is a helpful sign such as this one on the left.

No doubt these are differences between an entirely hand chased piece vs. cast chased vs. simply cast.  But I suspect that for most people, looking at the piece with the naked eye they would be hard pressed to know the difference.

The best generalization (and it is a generalization because the subtleties could fill a book) is that attention to the details is probably your best clue.  A hand-chased piece is almost certainly going to have been lovingly obsessed over (in the nicest possible way) by the silversmith.  No rough edges, beautiful details – sharp or smotth where they need to be.

Now this does not mean that there are not extremely well executed cast pieces.  Look at some of the great Gorham cast pieces of the late 19th century and prepare to have your socks knocked off!  However, again we are speaking generally, the devil is in the details – so look for edges and transitions.  Do the crisp pieces look crisp?


Pretend you are on a special edition of CSI and really, really use a loupe to look at that silver.

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2 thoughts on “Chased Silver | Vintage Silver Terminology

  1. ElizabethNo Gravatar

    So, here is another question that is much more simple. My mother in law was a decorator years ago. She has stated that an antique is anything 100+ years old. (I can’t imagine reclining on a 100 year old pillow myself). I am particularly fond of jewelry and my husband cars, in cars an antique car can be anything made before 1970 (in liberal use depending on the circle), in jewelry art deco is often called antique which began in the 20s. So in silver what is antique? And in American silver where a date mark references the pattern’s patent date and not the year it was produced would you consider a early example of the pattern antique regardless of when it was created? Aka Chantilly was patented in 1895 but is still produced in today (although visually different even in between online photos). Maybe this was no less simple than my last question.

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