Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Christy sugar bowl | Christopher Dresser | Alessi, Italy | 1993

after: Model No. 247 Christopher Dresser Elkington & Co., United Kingdom ca. 1885

Christopher Dresser Christy bowl Christopher Dresser 
Elkington & Co.
United Kingdom, ca. 1885

I always thought maybe I’d have a shot at the original sugar bowl by Christopher Dresser that served as the model for Alessi, the Model No. 247 for Elkington & Co.  Here is my original post from February 2, 2009.

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At the April 19, 2005 Decorative Arts including Christopher Dresser auction offered by Lyon & Turnbull, the “Conical sugar bowl” was offered as Lot 48.  The bowl exhibits stamped marks ‘Elkington & Co. 247’, and registration mark for 1885 and is 8.5cm high.  Estimated at £7,000 – 9,000 ($11,000 – $14,000), there were 17 bids and a hammer price of £22,000 ($35,000).  Whew, that’s a lot for a sugar bowl.Christopher Dresser No. 247 sugar bowl

The pared down lines of the sugar bowl give it a particularly ‘modern’ look. An exaggerated drawing of this bowl appears in Dresser’s Principles of Design, which appears to base the design on Egyptianesque forms. For the entire book, click here.

Christopher Dresser Principles of Design Fig. 149

Christopher Dresser Principles of Design Fig. 150Dresser outlines the process by which he arrives at the design:

Having determined on the best mode of working the material, consider carefully the requirements which the work to be produced is intended to meet, and then strive to form the object so that it may perfectly answer the end proposed by its creation.

Let us take a sugar-basin. What form should it have? After much consideration, I have arrived at the conclusion that the two shapes engraved in Figs. 149 and 150 are those which best fulfil the requirements of such a vessel, for in them the sugar is always collected together, and the dust sugar separates itself from the lumps. The handles of a sugar-basin are often so small as to be partially or wholly useless. It not unfrequently happens that only one or two fingers can rest on the handle, owing to its smallness, while the thumb has to be placed within the orifice of the basin when it is desired to move it. This should not be so;. if a handle is to exist at all, it should be so formed as to be useful, and afford a means of moving the object with ease and comfort.

To form a handle as a mere ornament is an absurdity, for the handle is part of the vessel structurally, while the ornamentation is an after and separate consideration. In order to its existence a vessel must be constructed, but when formed it need not of necessity be ornamented; ornamentation must ever be regarded as separate from construction.

Such a sugar-basin as I have suggested would not stand without legs: it must therefore have them; but I sec no reason why the legs and handles should not be combined; hence I propose three feet so formed as to serve as handles throughout their upper parts (Figs. 149, 150), they being convenient to hold.

Modern European silversmiths have fallen into the error (an error now prevailing wherever art can be applied to any object) of making their works of a pictorial, rather than an ornamental, character—an error which the Arabians, Indians, and Japanese never perpetrate, whose works in metal are unsurpassed by any, and equalled by indeed few. It is a mistake to cover an entire vase with figures in high relief; but wherever anything of the kind is attempted, care must be exercised in. causing the groups to follow the line of the vase, and not to appear as irregular projections from it. As to the modes of decorating works in silver and in gold, they are many; of ornamentation by repousse work we have already spoken, and of chasing and engraving. But besides these there are other methods, and some of great interest, for there is damascene work, or inlaying; and applying colour, or enamelling; and niello work; jewels may also be added.

Damascene work is of great interest. Metal of one colour is inlaid into metal of another colour. India produces, perhaps, the rarest examples of this kind of work, the Indians being experts at this manufacture; but the Indian work consists chiefly of silver inlaid in iron. This mode of work seems to be capable of producing many beautiful effects, as all who have examined the large inlaid hookahs of India will admit.

Having chosen a form for a vessel, the next question with which we have to deal is, will it require a handle and spout? It is curious that while the position of a spout and handle in relation to a vessel is governed by a simple natural law, we yet rarely find them placed as they should be. This is the more curious, as a vessel may become practically of great weight, owing to the handle being misplaced.

A pound weight is easily lifted, but when applied to the shorter end of the steel-yard it will balance a hundredweight. If this principle is applied to a tea-pot which actually weighs but little, it may yet be very heavy to lift. In nineteen cases out of twenty, handles are so placed on tea-pots and similar vessels that they are in use lifted only by a force capable of raising two or three such vessels, if the principle of the steel-yard was not acting against the person who uses the vessel. Take our ordinary forms of tea-pot, and see how far the centre of the weight (the centre of gravity) is from the handle in a horizontal direction, and you will be able to judge of the leverage acting disadvantageously to the person who may pour tea from such pots. Now if the part which is grasped is to the right or left of a right line passing through the centre of gravity of any vessel, there is leverage acting to the disadvantage of the person desiring to pour from that vessel, and this leverage increases just as the point held is removed from the central line spoken of.

Selected Bibliography

Christopher Dresser, Principles of Decorative Design, Cassell, Petter and Galpin, London, 1873, pp. 138-139

Michael Whiteway, Christopher Dresser 1834-1904, Skira Editore S.p.A., Milan, 2001, plate 203

Charlotte & Peter Fiell, Design of the 20th Century, p. 220.

Christopher Dresser. An Exhibition arranged by Richard Dennis and John Jesse. London: The Fine Art Society, 1972. Compare catalogue number 26.


Lyon & Trumbull. (2005, April 19). Decorative arts including Christopher Dresser [Lot 48]. Retrieved from http://www.lyonandturnbull.com/asp/fullCatalogue.asp?salelot=115+++++++48+&refno=+++54351

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