World’s fairs provided an ideal opportunity for one-upmanship among artists and firms, as gold medals were awarded to skilled international competitors within the categories of arts and manufactures. In the areas of metalwork and glass, punch bowls provided a vehicle for displaying technical and artistic virtuosity and were often used to garner prizes by companies like Baccarat, Tiffany, Libbey, and Gorham. In its display at the 1867 Exposition Universelle in Paris, Baccarat introduced a new line of cased glass, in which the decoration was achieved through a recently developed engraving process known as acid etching (instead of the age-old technique of copper wheel engraving). Bacchus and his friends provided the subject matter for most of the acid-etched glass shown there. Baccarat’s splashy display was not lost on Tiffany, which also had a presence at the Paris fair.

When the next major world’s fair took place in Vienna in 1873, Tiffany featured a monumental silver punch bowl with Bacchic motifs. The battle of the punch bowls had commenced. In succeeding world’s fairs, the firms submitted ever more ambitious displays, in which punch bowls invariably played a leading role, especially at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. With Tiffany and its rival Gorham literally sharing center stage, the punch bowl again became the natural vehicle with which to tout their supremacy. The two silver punch bowls displayed here first dueled in Chicago. Tiffany then trumped these two classical creations with a Viking-style punch bowl of decarbonized iron damascened with silver and gold (now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art), reminding fair visitors that Norsemen discovered America well before Christopher Columbus.

Christopher Monkhouse
Eloise W. Martin Curator and Chair, Department

Tiffany and Company. Covered "Roman" Punch Bowl, 1893. American. Collection of Richard H. Driehaus, 197957.