Meeting with new clients is always a thrill…not only am I meeting interesting people, but there is also the potential for seeing some new heart-stoppingly fantastic piece of silver. I’ve had the great pleasure of coming across more than a few honest-to-goodness Antiques Roadshow-worthy pieces in the last few years. Every time I do, the researcher/adventurer in me gets a fantastic thrill at the thought of figuring out the mystery. A few weeks ago, I ran across a superb piece of Hanau silver which my client has very kindly given me permission to share with you.
Hanau Silver Candlestick
Hanau silver is fascinating stuff. The very short version of the story is that in the 1860’s, August Schleissner, silversmith and descendent of silversmiths, after various sojourns in Paris, London, Belgium, Switzerland and the US, returned to his native Hanau, Germany, and with his brother, took control of the family silver firm — the Schleissner company.
Immediately, the firm began to offer “a line of antique reproduction silver in the Gothic, Renaissance, and Mannerist styles. Because of his superb craftsmanship he soon received royal commissions.” — from Dorothea Burstyn.
Business was good, so good, that very soon other firms began to spring up. Hanau swiftly became a major silver center producing copies of older works. Sometimes the copies were faithful. At other times a melange of styles would be put together to create a new piece.
What makes Hanau silver so particularly perplexing/fabulous/aggravating is the “system” (Ha! I use the term loosely) of hallmarks they used.
As frequent readers know, I’m all about the marks. Deciphering them is the key to unlocking many of the silent stories that silver has to tell us. In Europe, silver marks and hallmarks have been rigorously regulated for a very long time. The silver hallmark system in England goes back to the 1200’s.
On the Continent, until 150-200-ish years ago, it was common practice for each city or town to have its own system of silver marks. Oh, and the mark almost always changes a bit over the years…although this is helpful because it allows one to pin down the date with greater accuracy.
Please take my word for it when I say that this can make tracking down older European pieces really exciting. But for the most part, despite the fact that it might take you some time, it is possible to match the marks on a piece with the city of origin.
Hanau Silver Fantasy Marks
The exception to this rule is, of course, Hanau silver. In Hanau, silver marks were regulated just as they were in the rest of Europe. However, in Hanau, silver makers were allowed to MAKE UP the marks on each piece of silver! So, if you are looking at a piece of Hanau silver done in the French style, it will have French-looking marks. A German style piece would have vaguely Germanic looking marks, etc, etc. They are called Hanau Fantasy Marks, and are the bane of many a silver researchers existence.
It is really easy to get sent down the wrong rabbit hole, looking through hundreds of towns worth of French marks…only to surface a week later having torn one’s hair out because you can’t find a match. Then the light goes on and you realize what’s going on.
I’m happy to say that did not happen to me with this piece (although it did happen to me a couple of years ago…trust me, it’s a searing experience and you really learn your lesson). My Hanau silver alarm began to ring at the correct time, rather than a week late. 🙂
This piece came into my client’s family in the aftermath of World War II. The family was stationed in Germany immediately after the war. My client’s mother had a great eye and purchased a number of lovely pieces, including this one.
The main picture at the top of the post shows my favorite part of the piece in profile. Can you see the ram’s head? Here is a close-up image. The ram’s mouth holds additional arms of the candelabra. Pull the pin to release the arms.
Happily, my client is keeping the piece and plans to use it more frequently. For my part, I was thrilled to have had a chance to work on it.
I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing it too!