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THE PTARMIGAN VASE: A Monumental Copper, Silver & Gold Mokume Vase, Paulding Farnham, circa 1904

About the object

THE PTARMIGAN VASE: A Monumental Copper, Silver and Gold Mokume Vase and a leather-bound Book documenting its making, the design attributed to Paulding Farnham, 1904, Of inverted pear form, one side mounted with a gold medallion of the Seal of the Province of British Columbia flanked by peace pipes above applied coordinates, the sides etched with figures including an eagle, a large grotesque mask, and heavenly bodies, the shoulders applied with Ptarmigan tracks below a neck incorporating a band of eagle eyes and a projecting eagle's beak, perched on the basketweave rim is a life-size ptarmigan with copper beak, talons and silver eyes, the base rim applied with stylized pine tree, the finished base with concave recess and central silver and copper baluster finial; the book with tooled brown leather cover emobssed with identical coordinates\nThe base engraved with five signatures HANNWEBER, SWAMBY, THOMA, BARKER, and SPENGLER\nHeight 24 1/2 in.\n62.3cm


On 21 January 2011, a massive mokume vase, descended in the family of Paulding Farnham, was sold in these rooms (lot 114).  Referenced in family inventories as the "Ptarmigan Vase", this exceptional example of mixed-metal craftsmanship is now in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada.  Aside from a similar 3 1/8in. version of the Vase, also descended in Farnham's family (to be offered as lot 53 in this sale), the Ptarmigan Vase was believed to be singular in its creation.  In the spring of 2011, Sotheby's, New York, was notified of the existence of a second, identical vase and a book documenting the iconography and simultaneous construction of the two Ptarmigan Vases.  The emergence of the present lot (the second large Ptarmigan Vase) and its accompanying book The Ptarmigan Vases, is a remarkable discovery and continuation of the on-going mystery surrounding these intriguing masterworks.

Bound in tooled brown leather and embossed with coordinates identical to those one the large Vases, the accompanying book, The Ptarmigan Vases, is dated January 1904.  Through text and period illustrations, the book carefully documents the entire creation of the Vases, starting with the discovery of the rich ore, from which the Vases were made, on 13 November 1901 in Tunnel 3 of the Ptarmigan Mines in British Columbia. The book further explains that in the summer of 1902 approximately one ton of ore was shipped to New York, where it was then refined by the Balbach Refining Co., Newark, NJ.  The refining of the metal was accomplished in 75 hours and produced 7 bricks of copper, 3.5 bricks of silver and 1 button of gold.  Once the metal had been separated, "it was determined to make two vases from the gold, silver and copper, in the same proportions that they had been extracted from the ton of ore received from the mine."  The mokume was made from 18 layers of copper and silver of equal thickness that had been chiseled to expose the various layers and create an irregular pattern.  Disks of mokume were raised into a final outline, which The Ptarmigan Vases notes "is considered by metal workers a remarkable piece of metal hammering, and as far as known is the largest piece of such mixed metal ever produced."

The Ptarmigan Vases also provides a complete description of the Vases' decoration, which was derived from the basket and ornamental work of the Thompson River Indians, BC.  The Vases are each topped by a ptarmigan "of natural size" depicted with plumage the species would display in November, the month in which the ore was discovered.  The basket-weave rim is set with eagle eyes and an eagle beak "to suggest the beak of the bird that built its nest on the highest peak of the Red Line."  The figures depicted in the etched decoration are also explained, including the large grotesque mask representing "the Old Man of the Glacier, who, according to the legend of the Indians controls the weather... and rejoices in the glaciers he preserves here in great abundance hiding the riches below," and the figure on horseback, which points to the mouth of Tunnel No. 3.  Furthermore, the astrological symbols above the mountain depict "the heavenly bodies at the time of discovery."  The book's discussion of the iconography concludes: "These two vases are so precisely alike in shape, ornament, weight and color, that it was difficult from time to time for the workmen to determine which was which, in order to fit their different ornaments during the process of completion."

Despite the wealth of information revealed by The Ptarmigan Vases, the book does not reference an author or publisher.  Nor does it make any mention of Paulding Farnham, Tiffany & Co., or any of the five craftsmen whose names are stamped on the undersides of the Vases.  The book does however bear the book plate of Edward Dean Adams (1846-1931), recipient of the famous gold Adams Vase, designed by Paulding Farnham for Tiffany & Co.  Adams was a successful financier of various financial, engineering and industrial enterprises, including the Edison Electrical Company, Deutsche Bank, the Niagara Junction Railroad Company and the American Cotton Oil Company.  He maintained a residence at 920 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, and an estate in Rumson, NJ called "Rohallion."

 In 1893 the stockholders and creditors of the American Cotton Oil Company commissioned Tiffany & Co. to create an elaborate gold vase to be given to Adams as a token of gratitude as he had recently "saved the company from financial ruin."  At the time of the commission Adams was serving as company chairman, a position for which he refused any compensation.  It was stipulated that the Adams Vase was to be made entirely of materials sourced in America so that the Vase would be as uniquely American as the company itself.  Farnham's design for the 19-in vase demonstrates the same thoroughness of research and thoughtfulness as seen in the Ptarmigan Vases.  Renaissance Revival in overall style, Farnham incorporated cotton blossoms with figures representing Genius and Modesty.  Farnham described the two figures seated on the base as "young Atlas turning the financial world at his pleasure, his hand resting on the ornamental beaver to convey the idea that he is sensitive to the presence and importance of industry."  The Adams vase completed in 1895 and was shown at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris where it was regaled as "a masterpiece of the goldsmith's art and a triumph for Mr. Farnham" (John Loring, Paulding Farnham: Tiffany's Lost Genius, 2000, p. 18).  In 1904 Adams donated the Adams Vase to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he was a board member.

Adams was certainly keenly aware of Paulding Farnham's talent as a reflective and meticulous designer.  His bookplate illustrating the Adams's Vase prominently amongst attributes his various accomplishments and interests is a testament of his esteem for Farnham's work.   Adams likely came into possession of the Ptarmigan Vase around 1904.  It is enticing to speculate that perhaps Adams acquired the Ptarmigan Vase as a replacement for the Adams Vase which left his collection in 1904.  Adams died of phenomena on 20 May 1931 and was survived by his daughter Ruth Adams Lobdell (1891-1959).  It is unclear of what became of his possessions following his death.

The present owner acquired the Ptarmigan vase and the companion book at a small auction in Connecticut in the early 1970's.  The auction reportedly included works offered by the descendants of the late Luke Vincent Lockwood (1872-1951), which had come from his personal collection of Americana.  Lockwood was a collector of 17th and 18th century American furniture and was considered a pioneer in the study of the field.  He published Colonial Furniture in America in 1901.

George Paulding Farnham was born on 6 November 1859, and it was through family connections that Farnham was hired by Tiffany & Co.  His aunt, Julia, was married to Charles T. Cook, president of Tiffany & Co. from 1902-07.  It was Cook who recommended his nephew as an apprentice in the "Tiffany School" under head designer, Edward C. Moore.  In November 1885 he graduated from his apprenticeship and was made a "general assistant" to Moore.  Farnham's rise during his early years at Tiffany & Co. seemed unstoppable and just four years into his career he won the gold medal at the Paris Exposition of 1889 for his jewelry designs.  Following this success, Farnham was promoted to head jewelry designer in 1891, and during his tenure he won additional gold medals at the Chicago World's Colombian Exposition of 1893, the Paris Exposition of 1900 and the Buffalo Pan-American Exposition of 1901 (Loring 2000, pgs. 7-8).

In 1902, Charles Lewis Tiffany gave control of Tiffany & Co. to his son, Lewis Comfort Tiffany.  Tiffany and Farnham were both celebrated and talented designers in their respective styles, but there was not room enough at Tiffany & Co. for both.  Although highly respected, Farnham's power and influence in the company was no match for the firm's largest shareholder.  By 1907 Louis Comfort had named himself to be the new head jewelry designer, and on 2 June 1908 Farnham officially resigned from Tiffany & Co.

On 31 December 1896, Farnham married Sarah (Sally) Welles James, daughter of Col. Edward C. James, a prominent New York attorney, in her hometown of Ogdensburg, NY.  Two years later the couple welcomed their first child, James, born in January 1898.  A daughter, Julia Paulding Farnham, was born in November 1900, and a second son, John Paulding Farnham in July 1907.  For a short he time shared studio space with his wife, an up-and-coming sculptor, on West 57th Street in New York, but he seems to have abandoned the art world entirely in 1909.

Paulding Farnham's first association with the Ptarmigan Mines in British Colombia, Canada began about 1898.  Also called the "Red Line", the mountain was rich with copper, gold and silver – the same minerals from which the Ptarmigan Vase is constructed.  Farnham had initially believed the mines to be an exciting financial opportunity for his family and poured extensive personal resources into the venture (G.P.V. and Helen B. Akrigg, British Colombia Places and Names, 1997 p. 78).  In 1901 the Farnham family purchased a ranch at the base of the mountains in the town Windermere, BC (Peter H. Hassrick, The Art of Being an Artist Sally James Farnham, American Sculptor, 2005, p. 23).  The following year it was announced in The British Colonist that a prominent peak in the Selkirk mountain range "is now to be known as Mount Farnham, in honor of Paulding Farnham of New York, promoter of the Ptarmigan mines of the Selkirks.  Mount Farnham is sentinel of the range, rising 12,000 feet, first to 10,000 feet, then by a perpendicular castle-like rook 2,000 feet higher.  Mr. Farnham's property lies at the base of this mountain, and it is indeed well named, for Mr. Farnham has greatly contributed to the development of the mines in this district" (The British Colonist, 30 October 1902, p. 2).

Around 1904-05 it became apparent that the Ptarmigan mines were not the successful financial endeavor that Farnham had hoped they would be.  Despite the venture's bleak prospects, Farnham continued to sink money into the project.  He began to spend considerable amounts of time in British Columbia, especially after his departure from Tiffany & Co. in 1908 (Hassrick 2005, p. 31).  It was written of him: "Mr. Farnham stands out like his mountain among mining men in this- he has lost a fortune like a man and paid every cent he owed (an unusual thing with defunct mining companies)" (G.P.V and Akrigg 1997, p. 80).

Farnham's prolonged absences began to take their toll on his marriage and family life, and on 27 July 1914 his wife Sally filed a petition for divorce on the grounds of abandonment. The couple officially divorced the following year, and Farnham took up residence in California a few years later (Hassrick 2005, p. 35).  By the time the divorce was granted Farnham had exhausted nearly all of his personal resources.  He took very few possessions with him into his post-divorce life and Sally appears to have retained the property in their home and studio in New York, including the Ptarmigan Vase sold Sotheby's New York, 21 January 2011, lot 114, and the small vase to be offered as lot 53 in this sale.  The Ptarmigan Vase is among the artworks listed in a 1936 inventory of the contents of Sally's studio.

This time period in which the Vases were created corresponds with Farnham's burgeoning interest in Native American and Aztec design.  Although Tiffany & Co. had been producing Native American-inspired silver wares since the mid-1870's, Farnham revived the firm's design vocabulary in the late 1880's to include bolder motifs, pictograms, and forms directly based on Native American basketwork and pottery.  Examples of Farnham's Native American designs include the four "Pueblo" bowls exhibited in the 1893 Chicago Exposition, the "Navajo" vase and "Zuni" and "Hupa" bowls designed for the 1900 Paris Exposition, as well as the "Aztec" bowl finished in 1905 and sold in these rooms on 23 January 2009, lot 105 (Loring 2000, pgs. 60-67).

Although the Ptarmigan Vases does not bear marks for Tiffany &Co., the complexity of its manufacture would have required it to have been made in the Tiffany factory in New Jersey.  Tiffany & Co.certainly had the capabilities to produce mokume of this scale – the only other known work of large-scale mokume is the 32 inch tall vase designed by Edward C. Moore for the 1889 Paris Exposition, now in the collection of the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, New York.  A period drawing of this vase as published in The Jewelers' Weekly, is reproduced by John Loring in Magnificent Tiffany Silver, 2001, p. 52.

Most importantly, however, the five signatures on the base provide a direct connection with Tiffany & Co.  All five signatures, HANNWEBER, SWAMBY, THOMA, BARKER, and SPENGLER can be traced to master craftsmen who worked for Tiffany during the period.  Additionally, four of these men - Hannweber, Spengler, Swamby and Thoma- are recorded as contributors to the "Silversmiths' and Goldsmiths' Ware" category of 1900 the Paris Exposition and were important enough in their craft to be listed independently of Tiffany & Co. (Paulding Farnham was also listed independently of Tiffany in the "Jewelry" category).  Moreover, they comprise four of the seven individuals named in this category, and were the only individually-listed makers representing the New York area.  The 1900 Paris Exposition records also denote the various specializations of the craftsmen's contributions to the fair—Hannweber was a chaser, Spengler a silversmith, Swamby an enameler and Thoma a designer (Catalogue of Exhibitors in the United States Sections of the International Universale Exposition Paris, 1900, 1900, pp 435-36).  Since it is documented that these craftsmen created the Native American-inspired wares for 1900 Exposition, they most certainly would have had the technical skills to create the Ptarmigan Vase.  Likely their experience with large-scale mixed-metal is the very reason why Farnham chose these specific craftsmen for this personal project.

As Tiffany & Co. did not normally permit their master craftsmen to sign their wares, tracing the signatures on the bottom of the vase provides us with a rare insight into the lives of the men who created some of the most spectacular pieces of turn-of-the century American silver.

According to public records Louis Hannweber (chaser) was born in Brooklyn on 5 July 1867.  His father was a German immigrant and his mother a native New Yorker.  He married his wife Rose in 1887, and the couple appears to have had only one son, George, born around 1890.  Hannwebber spent most of his life in Brooklyn and is listed in the 1897 Brooklyn directory as living at 744 Bushwick Avenue.  The 1900 census also lists his residence as Brooklyn as does the obituary of his son printed in the New York Times on 21 February 1914.  By 1928 he was living at 7102 Manse Street in the Forrest Hills neighborhood.  Hannweber is recorded as traveling alone to Bermuda in 1928 and to Cuba the following year.  He died in Queens, New York on 20 February 1940.  His wife, Louisa died the following day on 21 February 1940.

Hannweber was first documented as a silversmith in the 1897 Brooklyn directory, which records his occupation as "chaser".  Likewise the Catalogue of Exhibitors in the United States Sections of the International Universal Exposition Paris 1900 lists his contribution to the exposition as "Chased work" under the category "Silversmiths and Goldsmith's Ware." (p. 435).  An amusing account of Hannweber while working at Tiffany is recorded in the notes of master craftsman Howard Tucker Bailey (1889-1950) transcribed by his wife after his death.  Bailey, who worked at the Tiffany factory from 1905-1950 describes a conversation between Hanwebber and Frank Malsch, foreman of the 2nd floor chasing room: "One day into the chasing room stalked Mr. Han Weber, in a towering rage.  "Mr. Malsch", he almost shouted, "Look here at this cup that some fool of a chacer spoiled.  When they tried to put a monogram on it they discovered it has been chaced with a odd number of divisions.  It was chaced some time ago but I want you to look up your records & see what fool chaced it.  I'll certainly give him a good piece of my mind."  (and how he could do that).  Later on Mr. Han Weber entered the Chacer's Room again and said, "Well!  Mr. Malsch did you look up that record for me?" "Yes" Mr. Malsch replied, very uneasily.  "Well, who is the man who did such a fool things?"  "I don't like to tell you Mr. Han Weber" replied Malsch very unsteadily.  "Come, come I insist upon knowing" said Mr. Han Weber.  From the very body of his soul Malsch dragged the answer, "It was you, Mr. Han Weber".  Mr. Han Weber gave one shocked Oh! And turned on his heel and left the department, not did he ever broach the subject again." (The Woodley-Bailey Family:

Godfrey Swamby (engraver/enameller) was born in Brooklyn in 1856/57 to Norwegian immigrant parents.  On 16 June 1887 he married Lizzie Cottrell of New York in Manhattan.  The couple, who had at least two daughters, Kary and Edna, lived in Newark, NJ, close to the Tiffany factory for many years.  Swamby died in November 1930.

Swamby appears to have had multiple roles at the Tiffany factory during his career.  The 1880 census and the 1920 census both list his occupation as "silver engraver".  Additionally, he is recorded as having been responsible for "Enameling" silver wares for the 1900 Paris Exposition (p. 435), and is described as "enameller silverware" in the 1910 census.  Howard Tucker Bailey's notes also suggest that he was worked in Finishing on the 2nd floor of the factory.

Jacob Thoma (designer) was born in New York in 1862 to German immigrant parents - John (a cooper by trade) and Margaret Thoma. In 1887 he married his wife, Johanna (1865-1909), and the couple had three children, Abbie, Margurite and John Jacob.

The 1880 census records that Jacob Thoma, was still living with his parents in New York City as a "looking glass maker".  Twenty years later, records indicate that he and his family were living at 6 Clinton St. in Belleville, NJ, near the Tiffany factory, and that he was occupied as a "silver smith".  Looking at the census records from this time it is apparent that quite a few of the Tiffany silversmiths were neighbors in the Belleville area.  For example, the 1900 census shows that Eugene Dulgie, a spoon maker at Tiffany, and his son, listed as "silversmith" lived at 7 Clinton Street, and that Daniel Rioden, an "apprentice silversmith", lived at 39 Clinton Street.  Furthermore, the 1910 census shows that Thoma, then living at 10 New Bridge Street, lived down the block from Frank Noonan, a "silver polisher, silver shop" and Jamie Donohue, a "silver finisher, silver shop".  The 1900 census, also lists Abbie Thoma's occupation as "stationary, silver shop" suggesting that Jacob Thoma was facilitating jobs at the Tiffany workshop for not only his own daughter, but his neighbor's children as well.

Thoma's experience as a designer for Tiffany is recorded not only in the accounts of Howard Tucker Bailey, but also in the list of exhibitors of the 1900 Paris Exposition where his contribution is recorded as "Design of silverware" (p. 435).

"Barker", the only signature on the vase not recorded as an exhibitor at the 1900 Paris Exposition is that of George E. Barker (stamper).  Barker was born in Brooklyn on 18 August 1867 to Gilbert H. Barker, a boat pilot on the East River and Elizabeth S. G. Curran Barker.  George's mother was the sister of renowned Tiffany designer John T. Curran, designer of the Magnolia Vase now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The Curran and Barker families lived next to each other at 104 and 106 Newell Street in Greenpoint Brooklyn.  George's cousin William Charles Cochrane, also a nephew of John T. Curran, worked as a silversmith at the Tiffany factory as well.  The Barker family was active in the Tabernacle Methodist Episcopal Church on Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.  Additionally, George was a respected member of the Masonic Lodge #403 also in Greenpoint.

On 27 September 1890 George Barker married Annie B. Allen (b. 1868), a school teacher at PS 35.  The couple had one daughter, Annie Barker, born in December 1891.  Annie Allen Barker died the following spring on 12 May 1892 at their home on 17 Norman Avenue, Brooklyn.  George married secondly in 1901 to another woman named Annie.

George Barker is listed in the 1892 NY State Census as living on Norman Avenue, Brooklyn, with the occupation of "refiner and assayist".  By 1900 he is recorded as living at 104 Newell Street, Brooklyn, as a "refiner" and, and in 1910 at 635 Leonard Street, Brooklyn as "foreman jewelry".  He is known to have travelled to Chicago in 1893, possibly for the Colombian Exposition.

Howard Tucker Bailey recalls that Barker worked for Tiffany as foreman of stamping in the plaster molding room on the first floor, and that he spoke with a "deep bellowing voice."

George Barker died of influenza on 18 December 1918.  At the time of his death he was living at 25 Heller Parkway in Forrest Hill, NJ, near the Tiffany factory.  He is buried in the Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Frank Spengler (silversmith) was born in Manhattan on 22 February 1863.  His parents Christian Spengler (b. 1838) and Louisa K. Spengler (b. 1840) were born in Baden, Germany and immigrated to the United States in the mid-1850s.  In Manhattan the Spengler family lived on Manhattan's Lower East Side, an area highly populated with German immigrant families.  When Christian Spengler, a blacksmith/machinist/safe builder was naturalized on 2 October 1866, his address was given as "147 East 4th".  He is listed at the same address in the 1877 New York City Directory.

The 1880 United States Census records Frank Spengler, then seventeen years old, as a "silversmith" and living with his widowed mother and sister Louisa, age 15, at 186 Ludlow Street, Manhattan.  A third child Theodore Spengler, age 12, died at the same address in May 1880.  The 1888 New York City lists "Frank Spengler, smith. Home 191 East Houston" and in 1890 at 186 East Houston.  According to the 1900 census Spengler was employed as a "silversmith" and was living with his mother and sister at 72 Third St.  On 19 April 1903 he purchased property at 206 East 83 Street on the Upper East Side.  The dimensions of the lot were 25' x 102' and Spengler's mortgage was $11,500.  It is believed that Spengler died at this address on 12 September 1903.


Copper, Silver, Gold


Height 24 1/2 in. 62.3cm


The Ptarmigan Vases, 1904


Edward Dean Adams

Luke Vincent Lockwood (by repute), acquired at a sale of Lockwood belongings by

Private Collector, CT

*Note that the price is not recalculated to the current value, but refers to the actual final price at the time the product was sold.

*Note that the price is not recalculated to the current value, but refers to the actual final price at the time the product was sold.