K.L. wonders about the history behind a serving dish he picked up on eBay for $26.
The story of silver plate traditionally used for family holidays originated in Warsaw, Poland, in the late 19th century to early 20th century. Such pieces were once called Fraget ware, because two French businessmen, Alfons and Jozef Fraget, brought the process of electroplating to Poland in the third quarter of the 19th century. Silver-plated tableware sold to Polish and Russian families who could not afford silver was simply called Fraget at the turn of the last century.
Competition reared in the neighboring Norblin factory, established by Vincent Norblin (1805-1872), who produced similar silver plate in Warsaw; he left this concern to his son and daughter, a wise move on his part. Female ownership of a factory was rare in those days: Vincent's daughter had an excellent business head and capably ran the company after the assignation of the male of the team.
Vincent's daughter met competition in terms of tableware in silver plate by the Buch brothers of Warsaw, famous for fine pieces of Judaica silver plate. In the late 19th century, Norblin merged with the Buch brothers, and the Fraget as well as the Norblin-Buch concerns flourished until the outbreak of World War II.
A close relationship between Poland and Russia increased the interest for fine silver plate in middle- to upper-class, primarily Jewish, households throughout Poland and Russia. The history of this relationship and trade goes back to the Congress of Vienna of 1815
when Warsaw became the center of the Congress Poland, a monarchy under union with Imperial Russia. Not always a friendly mix, the 1831 Polish-Russian War saw the subjugation of Poland: Russia closed down the congress, the university, and dissolved the Polish army. Jews were forced to stay in the margins of Warsaw.
However, the strong Jewish banking community in Warsaw was responsible for the lending of the funds to build the great Polish railway lines in and out of Warsaw; in 1864, the most modern railway bridge in the world, the Most Kierbedzia, was built. The Technical Institute was established in 1898. The growing industrial might of the city was flourishing, and Jewish merchants played an important role.
This was the high point of the great tradition of Polish silver plate, as most middle- to upper-middle-class Jewish families wanted to set a glorious and respectful rich-looking High Holiday table and had the money to do so, even if they could not afford silver itself.
Warsaw at the turn of the last century was a cosmopolitan center, yet the 40 percent of the total population who were Jews were forced to live in a certain district in Warsaw under the Pale of Settlement rules. Influential business people and merchants called this district home, such as the owners of the manufactories of K.L.'s silver tray.
More Jews immigrated to this area in Warsaw with the riots in Russia of 1881. The area of the Jewish quarter may have been tight and restricted, but Jews were involved in the high-style crafts of the city. Some of the most valuable of all silver plate comes from these craftsmen, such as Buch brothers Polish silver plate.
Most silver plate is not worth anywhere close to sterling and high- content silver metal wares, but the beautiful Bros. Buch pieces, made for the Jewish market, have a strong value on the marketplace today. Bros. Buch made silver plate Hanukkah lamps, serving trays, spice containers, beakers, eyeglass frames, Kiddush cups and cutlery for the Holy Days tables. It has been said that the use of silver plate for the table in middle- to upper-middle-class homes (check the abundant silver plate in your boomer mom's house) originated with the Polish silver plate manufactories of the late 19th century.
Silver plate manufactory in Poland outlived the troubles of Poland in WWI: In 1915, Germany and Russia were at war; Germany bombed Warsaw, but realized they needed Polish support to beat the Russians. The Germans allowed the Polish to expand the city, opening schools that taught in the Polish language. After German domination, the great Polish statesman Jozef Pilsudski was given military and civil authority; he made Warsaw the capital of Independent Poland, as Warsaw was first established as a Duchy by Napoleon 1807-1813.
The hallmark on the back of K.L.'s tray shows the shape of the Polish double eagle in the abstract of the laurel wreath and crown to the top. The value of the tray is $250.
Certified appraiser for estates, inheritances and trusts.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart's column appears every week in the Salon & Style section of the Santa Barbara News Press. Email her your questions and high-resolution photos at ElizabethAppraisals @ gmail.com
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