The Westinghouse Set: An American parcel-gilt silver and mixed metals "Japanese style" seven-piece tea and coffee set with tray, Tiffany & Co., New York, circa 1885
- height of kettle on stand 14 5/8 in. (37.2cm); width of tray approx. 18 1/2 in. (47cm)
The monogram is that of Marguerite Erskine Walker Westinghouse (d. 1914), who married in 1867 the inventor George Westinghouse (1846-1914). The following year he invented the air break, formed a company for it in 1869, and their success began. In 1871 they purchased a house, Solitude, in the Homewood section of Pittsburgh, and in 1883 their only son, George III, was born.
By 1881 Westinghouse had perfected the electric block signal for railroads, and made further advances in switching and signaling that were crucial to the booming railroad industry. He developed a system of transmitting natural gas and using it for heating, drilling a gas well on his own property at Solitude. In 1886 he founded the Westinghouse Electric Company, and two years later purchased patents from Nikolai Testa for the alternating current motor. He was given the contract to electrify the 1893 Columbian Exposition, where his 250,000 lights dazzled contemporaries and became a triumph for his model of electricity as opposed to Edison’s direct current. A macabre spin-off of the competition between the two was the promotion of electricity for execution and the first electric chair.
In 1900, the Westinghouse fortune was estimated at $120 million. However, he was a major victim of the financial panic of 1907, and by 1911 he had severed his ties with all of his companies.
The Westinghouses were known for entertaining, at Solitude, at a later winter residence Blaine House in Washington, D.C., and at their summer residence Erskine Park, in Lenox, Massachusetts. The estate was much loved by Marguerite, and boasted 120 acres of open lawns, crushed marble roads, engineered ponds with marble bridges, and nearly 400 white pines. A private power plant lit the estate, with the excess being wired to the streets of Lenox.
George Westinghouse, with 361 patents and having founded 60 companies, always called his wife the most important person in his life, and credited her for all of his success. After he died in March, 1914, Marguerite reportedly declared, “I have nothing to live for now,” and she passed away just three months later.
The couple obviously had a taste for Tiffany silver. In addition to this sumptuous set, they owned a butterfly box by Tiffany, similarly engraved on the base. They purchased the enameled Falcon Vase, designed by John T. Curran for the 1893 Exposition (which Westinghouse had lit), though they later gave it to friends for Christmas in 1897. In 1911, another couple received a Tiffany tea set as a twenty-fifth wedding anniversary gift from the Westinghouses (sold Sotheby’s, New York, January 15-17, 2004, lot 68).
The 4872 model of tea set was designed in 1877 by Edward C. Moore for Tiffany’s display at the 1878 Paris Exposition. The original Tiffany hammering and mounting design no. 138, as adapted to the teapot, is illustrated in the catalogue of the Jerome Rapoport Collection, Sotheby’s, New York, June 20, 1996, lot 27. The teapot had a decorating cost of $105, with $60 for the hammering and mounting and an additional $5 for the parcel-gilding. The coffee pot had a decorating cost of $130, while the waste bowl was only $60.
The Hot Milk Jug 5125 was designed in 1878 to accompany the “set 4872.” The hammering and mounting design 376, with a note “alloy” referring no doubt to the mixed metal applied work, is listed with a decorating cost of $60 plus $175 for chasing and mounting. The Tea Kettle 5394 was designed early in 1879, again to “match 4872 Set.” The hammering and mounting design 486 had decorating costs of $100 for the body and $80 for the stand, plus an additional $10 for the parcel-gilding.
The wonderful tray 5953 was designed in 1880 and described as “Waiter Odd sides… Spider & Fly [sic].” It cost $90 to make, and hammering and mounting design 1005 cost $125. This order, number 1876, is listed in the Tiffany ledger.