Sunday, September 10, 2000

Art review

Folgers exhibit harkens back to age of elegance

By Owen Findsen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Corporations tend to collect objects that lend prestige to their their products. Campbell's Soup collects soup tureens, a vessel made obsolete by canned soups. The Folgers Coffee Co. collects silver coffee pots.

[photo] This 1828 Sheffield plate coffee maker works like a steam engine.
        Actually, Folgers coffee probably was served in silver 150 years ago when the company was founded. Cincinnati Art Museum is celebrating the anniversary with The Best Part of Waking Up: The Folgers Coffee Silver Collection, opening this weekend. The exhibition shows off some of the 90 English coffee pots and accessories given to the museum by Procter & Gamble, which acquired Folgers in 1963.

        Installed in the new Thomas R. Schiff Galleries, the museum's elegant new setting for intimate exhibitions, the silver pots are shining examples of an age of elegance, when coffee was an expensive luxury that was never served in ceramic or pewter pots. The pots are from the 18th and early 19th centuries, when English silver shined.

        Coffee, tea and chocolate were introduced to England in the mid-17th century. About the same time, French protestants, called Huguenots, were expelled from France and settled in England, goldsmiths and silversmiths among them. New beverages and new craftsmen caused the creation of new styles of pots, jugs, urns and salvers.

        In those days, before stock markets, wealthy people invested their money in land and precious metals. Imported coffee, tea, chocolate and sugar were expensive. An ideal way to flaunt your wealth was to serve these beverages in silver. The 18th century in England, was when the greatest silver objects were made, curator Jennifer Howe said. With the development of industry, the 19th century saw the introduction of silver plate, affordable by the new middle class.

        Coffee, tea and chocolate were served in pots of different shapes. Because coffee came from Turkey, the shapes of the early English pots imitated Turkish pots, simple designs with tall, straight, sloping sides and straight spouts. French influence caused the pots to become more shapely and ornate, with s-curve sides and spout and elaborate surface treatment. Simplicity returned with the neo-Classical fashion for objects inspired by Grecian urns.

        Among the pots there are a few jugs, with spouts near the lid rather than low on the body, and there are sugar bowls and creamers including the inevitable one in the shape of a cow.

        The CAM's silver collection is already extensive, and with the addition of the Folgers pots, is even more prestigious. The collection includes fine examples of major silversmiths Paul de Lamerie, Hester Bateman and Paul Storr, and objects from the Folgers collection are shown in definitive texts on English silver.

        The most novel object in the exhibition is one of the latest, a Sheffield plate coffee maker from 1828 is designed to resemble, and work like, a steam engine. It is the kind of status novelty that would appeal to nouveau riche industrialists and is akin, in function and status, to the expensive home espresso makers that are fashionable today.

        The Best Part of Waking Up, The Folgers Coffee Silver Collection, through Dec. 31, Cincinnati Art Museum, 721-2787.


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