Frederick William Stark, ‘An Important and Rare “Continental” Service’, 1934, Sotheby's: Important Design
Frederick William Stark, ‘An Important and Rare “Continental” Service’, 1934, Sotheby's: Important Design

Executed by the International Silver Company

Comprising six place settings, each with a service plate, dinner knife, dessert knife, dinner fork, salad fork, dessert fork, butter spreader, and bouillon spoon, together with four butter plates and the following supplementary pieces: six each: dessert spoons, cocktail forks, teaspoons, and coffee spoons; two table (serving) spoons; and one salad set with fork and spoon.

Dimensions: service plate: 11 x 9 in. (28 x 22.9 cm)

From the Catalogue:

A full-page advertisement by the International Silver Company illustrating a place setting as seen here appeared on page one of Fortune Magazine for September 1934 and proclaimed, “Presenting CONTINENTAL, A Triumph of Contemporary Design.” (A copy of the magazine accompanies the lot.) This setting was produced by International’s sterling silver division, Wilcox & Evertsen. Their brochure for Continental dated May 6, 1935, illustrated the companion service and bread and butter plates that completed the Continental place setting. These plates, however, probably were only available on special order since they were not included in the brochure’s pricing. The service plates offered here were produced by International’s Wilcox Silver Plate Company division exclusively for Carole Stupell, Ltd., one of the country’s most prominent retailers for luxury accessories and table décor established in New York City in 1929. The bread and butter plate offered here in sterling were produced by International’s Wilcox & Evertsen division. Other examples of the service plates and bread and butter plates in either sterling or silverplate are unknown.

“My Story,” a booklet assembled in 1934 by International’s president, Clifford R. Gardinor, for his company’s sales staff stated, “The time has come for pure modernism in flat silver design. Wilcox & Evertsen is first in the field with a modern design that transcends all compromise. True modern design is severely simple, it is massive in proportions, it is intensely practical, it secures the essence of beauty through absolute simplicity. CONTINENTAL is all these things.” The booklet also included the statement, “stripped of petty traditions of design, innocent of a single compromising scroll of ornament…here is a sterling silver pattern in the tempo of today.” Gardinor went on to state, “[Continental] is made only in the most essential pieces and those in the most modern forms. For instance, only Viande knives are made.” Such Viande style knives, as seen in the place setting being offered, had a short blade and extended handle, an innovative configuration designed by the well-known architect, Eliel Saarinen, for International in 1929. The option for traditionally configured knives, with a longer blade and shorter handle, became available for Continental as early as December 1934 as shown in “Table Decorations” by California Arts & Architecture where place settings of Continental arranged by the Gump store in San Francisco included both a traditional knife and a Viande knife. It seems probable that by the following year, International ceased production of Continental Viande knives. Viande knives were lacking in the Continental place setting in “Modern Table” by House & Garden for April 1935 which also did not include the Continental service and bread and butter plates. Continental was shown with the traditional knife configuration in the catalogue for the Brooklyn Museum’s 1937 exhibition Industrial and Handwrought Silver and at the 1939 San Francisco Golden Gate Exposition (as seen in an unidentified newspaper clipping, Gorham Photo Book, Historical Design, Modern, c. 1943, Gorham Archives, John Hay Library, Brown University) which underscores the rarity of the original knife configuration.

The Fortune magazine advertisement for Continental in 1934 reads, “Note that the flat silver is monogrammed on the back, and the spoons and forks placed face down on the table, in the European manner.” The initial production of Continental flatware had tiny marks of an Indian head and STERLING that emulated the typically small European silver marks leaving an open area for a monogram. The place setting being offered has these rare minimal manufacturer’s marks on the cream soup spoon and the larger and smaller forks. International soon replaced these marks with more noticeable marks: INTERNATIONAL [Indian head] STERLING. Americans were not receptive to the idea of face-down flatware and in International’s 1934 publication “Correct Table Setting,” Mrs. Frances T. Heard, Associate Editor of House Beautiful combined with Home & Field arranged the Continental flatware face side up. Indeed, just a month after the Fortune advertisement, House & Garden also illustrated a Continental place setting with the flatware face side up in their article, “Shining New Patterns in Flat Silver.”

Continental was designed by Fred Stark (1885-1969), who began at the International Silver Company in 1923 after twenty-one years in the Design Department of the Gorham Company of Providence, Rhode Island. In 1918, he was awarded special recognition for his historicist design of a coffeepot. At International he demonstrated his proficiency in both traditional and modernist styles. As Jewel Stern has summarized in her book, Modernism in American Silver, “The talented and versatile Stark, whose designs ranged from Scandinavian naturalism to geometric minimalism, produced silver of refinement and distinction regardless of the style he worked in.” Of his Continental pattern she wrote, “Totally devoid of surface decoration, the austere lines of Continental would have been ideal for the [Museum of Modern Art’s 1934] Machine Art exhibition, but the pattern was not available.” Continental flatware gained important recognition when it was illustrated in the 1936 publication Art and the Machine by Sheldon and Martha Cheney. In Vogue for October, 1, 1937, an International Silver Company advertisement quoted the prominent modernist designer, Donald Deskey, “I consider Continental as one of the few available sound modern designs in American silver thoroughly in keeping with modern architecture.” International suspended flatware production during World War II and when Continental was reissued in 1950 it gained further recognition by Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art in their publication Current Design for June 1950.

—Courtesy of Sotheby's

Fortune Magazine, September 1934, p. 1