The elegant epergne is always an eye-catching addition to any formal dining.
Epergnes vary in shape, size, and decoration but the main purpose was the same– to hold nuts, fruits, and, “sweetmeats,” which were candy or crystallized fruit. Epergnes originally came from France and were commonly placed on sideboards. The name is thought to be from the French word “epargne” meaning to save, as with leftovers from a meal. The elevation of the device also literally saved space on the table. Developed during the 17th century, epergnes were part of a growing trend of decorative objects being used during entertaining to delight visitors. Centerpieces like the epergne
became increasingly important in this endeavor. The first epergnes appeared on English dining tables around 1720. The first epergnes were long and low with a bowl in the center and sweetmeat dishes at each end. Later models in the 18th century have great verticality with a central dish surrounded by scrolling arms with hanging baskets. Epergnes were not common in America prior to 1850. They were seen only in the homes of the elite. However, after the mid- 19th century they were made in American factories like Gorham
and Mount Washington
and they became more popular.
At the Hammond-Harwood House we are fortunate to have a decorative example from the late 18th century. Four small Waterford glass bowls with scalloped edges surround a center glass bowl used to contain condiments. Two lion heads can be found in the front and rear of the piece, and there are paw feet on the bottom. Centered underneath the large bowl is a lid with an ornamental vase finial, typical of the neoclassical style. It is made of Sheffield plate, accidentally invented in 1743 by Thomas Boulsover
, who worked at the Company of Cutlers in Sheffield. This formula fuses copper and silver together, making it more affordable than pure silver. This delicate piece has been repaired a number of times over time but endures as a relic of formal dining in years past and continues to delight museum visitors.
England, c. 1790-1810
Maker: Unknown, English
Medium: Silver on Copper, glass
S32 Gift of Arunah Brady in 1948