The Met’s ‘Collecting Inspiration’ Is a Trip Around the Globe in Silver and Glass

A new exhibition of the collection of silversmith and design aficionado Edward C. Moore celebrates all things Tiffany.

A portrait of a man in hung in a dark room next to a display of silver objects
Edward C. Moore was a silversmith, an art collector and a benefactor of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Eileen Travell, courtesy of The Met

These days, most of us know Tiffany’s as the leading jewelry brand in America and a cultural icon. There’s the lately revamped New York City flagship on the corner of Fifth Avenue, home to the Blue Box Café by Daniel Boulud where one can actually breakfast at Tiffany’s. Many will recall Tiffany & Co.’s About Love initiative, which showcased not only Jay-Z and Beyonce but also Equals Pi, a 1982 canvas by Basquiat that now hangs in the flagship. And who isn’t familiar with the luxury retail behemoth’s trademark robin’s egg hue, otherwise known as Tiffany Blue®?

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But long before cinema’s Holly Golightly stood nibbling a pastry in front of a sparkling Tiffany’s display in the early morning hours, the Tiffany & Co. of the 19th Century was known for silver: goblets, pitchers, flatware and enormous vases—much of which is now on view in “Collecting Inspiration: Edward C. Moore at Tiffany & Co.” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The exhibition showcases the collection of Edward C. Moore, a silversmith and art collector who worked for Tiffany’s starting in 1868. Moore donated his collection of more than 2,500 objects and books to the Met when he died in 1891 with the aim of them being available to all. Once upon a time, his collection was on display at the museum in a dedicated gallery, but in 1942 they were dispersed into separate departments. This exhibition reunites over 180 pieces from Moore’s personal collection and shows them alongside 70 silver works he created with his team at Tiffany & Co.

A swan made out of silver in a dark museum exhibition
An installation view of “Collecting Inspiration: Edward C. Moore at Tiffany & Co.,” on view through October 20 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Eileen Travell, courtesy of The Met

Without a doubt, Moore had good taste. It was decorative, but at least it was worldly. He collected items from Iran, Japan, ancient Greece and Rome. One of the oldest pieces in the exhibition is an ancient glass garland bowl from 1st-century Rome, which has been kept in pristine condition, still bright in beautiful shades of red, blue, white and yellow.

He added flatware to Tiffany’s silver collection in 1869 and won a gold medal at several design fairs, including the 1867 Paris Exposition, and received the Legion of Honor in France in 1889. There’s no doubt he had an adroit eye for art collecting, which inspired his design work for Tiffany and Co. He collected everything from kimonos to teacups, Japanese swords and Oriental jewelry.

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Some highlights include an intricate Goelet Cup Schooner Prize from 1884, which depicts Neptune, God of the sea, wielding a trident at the forefront of a wreathed ship held aloft on arching fishtales, as well as several marbled mosaic glass fragments from bowls dating from the late 1st century BCE to the early 1st century CE. It’s amazing to consider how these pieces have survived for so long with their translucent purples, turquoise blues, vibrant yellows, deep greens and striking patterns intact.

A colorful Roman glass bowl
Glass garland bowl; Early Imperial, Augustan, Late 1st Century BCE; Roman Glass; cast and cut; H. 1 13/16 in. (4.6 cm), diameter 7 1/8 in. (18.1 cm). Edward C. Moore Collection, Bequest of Edward C. Moore, 189191.1.1402

There are whole artifacts, too, that are amazing in the intricacies of their colors and designs, like the delicate iridescent violet double-head flask from 3rd-century Rome, along with several other mosaic glass perfume flasks from Roman times. Moore also collected perfume bottles and jugs from Italy and Greece, many from the late 6th Century. Other items in the exhibition include terracotta bowls and water jugs from 500 BCE, gold-encrusted vases from Austria from 1570 and beakers and vases from the Netherlands, Germany and Italy. Moore also adored Venetian glass from Murano from the 17th Century and intricate glassworks from 18th-century Spain.

One standout is the set of wooden Coptic Panels from Egypt, showing symmetrical design work in bone from the 10th Century. The various books of textiles from India are also worth a look. Then there are the pieces that stand out for their relative otherness, like a 17th-century gun from Sri Lanka (one of only five surviving decorated Sinhalese firearms) and a dagger from Georgia from the 11th Century.

Moore believed that American design would evolve and be transformed as artisans learned from international examples. His own collection heavily influenced his silver designs and the growth of Tiffany & Co. The best part of this sprawling exhibition is probably the silver and glass from Europe, as glasswork served as a core inspiration for Moore’s silverwork. He loved Venetian-style objects, and the rise of the Venetian glass industry in the 1860s led to notable changes in his design work, which is sometimes abstract and based on enamels and texture.

A lineup of five antique perfume bottles from Greece
Glass alabastron (perfume bottle); Hellenistic, 2nd–mid 1st Century BCE; Greek, Eastern Mediterranean; Glass; core-formed, Group III; 4 7/8 × 1 11/16 in. (12.5 × 4.2 cm), Diam. of rim: 7/8 in. (2.3 cm). Edward C. Moore Collection, Bequest of Edward C. Moore, 189191.1.1408

The whole exhibition feels like a visual history, an immersive Wikipedia entry on silver design and ceramics, presented in a manner very different from the way we might archive them today. “Collecting Inspiration” closes with Edward C. Moore team’s drawings for the Magnolia Vase created by Tiffany & Co. in 1892—likely the last item he designed before his death in 1891. It feels like a homage to the collector. The delicate drawings and watercolor paintings of magnolia flowers became the genesis of an enormous silver vase with enamel magnolias, which was shown at Chicago’s World Fair in 1893. It’s very much Moore’s design legacy; he fused worlds to innovate, and one critic celebrated the piece for its “artistic beauty and intrinsic value.”

You could think of the exhibition as a whirlwind trip across the globe… a survey of its treasures, from silver goblets to ancient glass, in keeping with the way Moore seemed to look at the world. It’s bound to leave you creatively inspired and maybe also shopping around for a ticket out of New York for the summer.

Collecting Inspiration: Edward C. Moore at Tiffany & Co.” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is on through October 20.

The Met’s ‘Collecting Inspiration’ Is a Trip Around the Globe in Silver and Glass