Bon voyage: Hotel silver says it best

By Terry Quillen


For a lot of travelers, the destination matters most. But during the Golden Age of Travel, how you got there and where you stayed were a big part of what made the Grand Tour grand.


Remnants of the great ocean liners, the grand hotels, and trains such as the Orient Express are a treasure trove for collectors. Among the most elegant are the silver pieces that graced tabletops and room-service trays.


Generically, this category is known as “hotel silver” and includes items that were manufactured from the 1860s through the 1940s. Such items were made using nickel silver with a thick plating of pure silver, giving each piece a durable weight. The lines of hotel silver are streamlined, and they feature a time-worn patina known as "butler's finish" – particularly notable in the pitcher at right, from the Grand Hôtel at Biarritz (photo from Posh Chicago).


Often, the insignia on a piece of hotel silver has a story to tell, as is the case with this little pitcher from the Grand Hôtel. Located on the French Atlantic coast at Biarritz, the hotel was built to resemble Empress Eugénie's nearby beachfront palace. It was the seasonal home of many members of European royalty, but was demolished at the end of World War II.


The hotel silver ice bucket, at left, actually is not from a hotel at all, but from the Travellers Club in Paris. Located on the Champs Élysées, it is housed in what once was the home of "la Païva," nicknamed "La Grande Horizontale," one of the most renowned of all Parisian prostitutes (photo from Posh Chicago).


Much of what we call hotel silver was used on the great steamship liners. Pieces might have served travelers aboard the Cunard White Star line, which included the ill-fated Titanic and Lusitania, or the Alaska Steamship Company, which traveled the Pacific, or even the Great Lakes Steamboats. In the photo, below right, is a collection of such items (clockwise from top: Diners aboard the Normandie, sitting beneath Lalique crystal chandeliers; a pitcher from the United Fruit Company line; Art Deco entrance to the dining room on the Swedish M/S Jungsholm; breakfast condiment set from one of the Cunard White Star liners).


The breakfast condiment set, seen in the lower left of this photo collage, is believed to have come from Cunard's Aquitania or Mauretania. It was brought to guests as a vessel for serving hard- or soft-boiled eggs. Dated 1921, it originally had glass inserts. The Website Luxury Liner Row has more stories to tell about dining on the high seas.


Then there is hotel silver that was used on the old passenger railway lines. Dining cars and lounges once featured white-linen dinner seatings, and meals were often delivered, room service-style, to Pullman sleepers and private drawing rooms.


"Dining cars were advertised to would-be passengers as being fancier than New York City hotels," reports Collectors Weekly. "Travelers were often invited to choose among meals with dozens of options. Interestingly, the dining cars consistently operated at a loss because of their extravagance, but they were seen as necessary part of turning train travel into a 'Grand Tour' experience."


The photo, left, features an array of visuals from the golden era of train travel. Seen clockwise from upper left: The dining car of the Chicago and Northwest (from Urban Ghosts Media); diners enjoying restaurant car service on a British Rail train (from The Daily Mail); platter dome from the Union Pacific Railroad; unidentified Art Deco railway coffee pot.


Among the silver manufacturers who made hotel silver were Gotham, R. Wallace, Meridian-Britannia, Gorham, International Silver, Reed & Barton, Rogers Bros., and others. Hotels usually had their insignia applied by the manufacturer, but some chose to have theirs done by a favorite jeweler or engraver.


This gravy boat, photo right, is typical hotel silver: heavy and durable. It is available in Showcase T-293 at GasLamp Too.


Grand travel is still available. The Orient Express still runs across Europe, as does the Maharajah's Express in India, among several others. The storied Ritz Hotel in Paris is closed until next year for renovations. Let's hope she returns with none of her grandeur lost. Meanwhile, there are still The Plaza and The Waldorf Astoria in New York City, along with the newer boutique hotels to cater to the deluxe taste.


Instead, try this itinerary: Book a charming inn or bed and breakfast, and experience the Grand Tour at home, any time you like, with a piece or two of your own hotel silver.



Print this page