The orchid offered here is of the variety Oncidium Varicosum Rogersii. This variety was one of those mentioned in the Paris Herald of September 30, 1889 among the twenty-four orchids designed by Paulding Farnham and made by Tiffany & Co. for the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1889. So popular were the orchids that by April 1890 Tiffany’s increased the number of varieties from twenty-four to forty-one. As of the publication in 2006 of the exhibition catalogue Bejewelled by Tiffany, 1837-1859, it is stated on p.202 that “A number of these orchid brooches exist today, seven of which are in the Tiffany & Co. archives along with three enameled flower brooches and a floral lapel watch”.
Tiffany & Co. received the Gold Medal for Jewelry at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1889 largely due to the success of the enameled orchids which were praised by French and American jewelers and critics alike. The New York Times wrote on March 13, 1889: “Tiffany & Co (has) been studying for two years to bring about a satisfactory result in this direction (enameling) and the outcome thoroughly justifies the labor.” The orchids were also praised in a Jeweler’s Weekly article of June, 1889: “so perfectly copied after nature as to inspire unqualified admiration…such fidelity is manifested as temporary to deceive the observer into a belief that real flowers have been placed in the showcases with the jewelry.”
Paulding Farnham, born in 1859 to a prominent New York family, is first recorded as working for Tiffany’s around 1885. Although the orchids were not the first of his designs, they were the first objects that could be safely attributed to him. Farnham was made artistic director of Tiffany’s entire display of gems in Paris in 1889. Despite the exotic nature of the orchids, he made a special effort to keep Tiffany’s exhibition American in character by using materials and workmen from the United States whenever possible. The orchids, as well as other works by this talented designer are mentioned in an article by Janet Zapata entitled: ‘The rediscovery of Paulding Farnham, Tiffany’s designer extraordinaire, Part 1: Jewelry, from The Magazine Antiques, March 1991.
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