Today in 1876, the craftsmanship of the silver pieces produced by the Meriden Britannia Company of Meriden, Connecticut found itself in the national spotlight after the New York Times published a glowing write-up of the company’s wares at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Noting the “peculiar excellence” of both the company’s highly detailed figural sculptures as well as its more approachable, high-quality sets of silverware, the Times concluded that “Everything appertaining to the work of the Meriden Britannia ware is admirable in design and very perfect and true in workmanship. …[Their] work abounds with fine outlines and conscientious work in all its details.”
The Times was hardly alone in its effusive praise of the Meriden Britannia Company’s display in Philadelphia. After their wares were viewed by scores of judges — and over eight million visitors to the Centennial Exposition — the Meriden Britannia Company was awarded First Place for plated metal wares. The central Connecticut-based manufacturer, which employed 800 workers in its Meriden factory complex, had made a name for itself in an extremely crowded field of domestic and international competitors by focusing on perfecting the art of intricately-detailed silver-plate design (as opposed to working in sterling, as many British silver companies did).
Prominently placed at the center of the Britannia Company’s pavilion was a striking centerpiece featuring Native American motifs — a hugely popular design theme at the time of the Centennial, as both elite taste-makers and everyday citizens sought to celebrate the people, places, and symbols considered to be unique to the United States. In 2008, the same prize-winning Centennial centerpiece was sold at a Sotheby’s auction for over $32,000. The finest examples of silver craftsmanship, proudly produced in Meriden, still captures the American imagination, today in Connecticut history.
“Meriden’s Silver Lining,” connecticuthistory.org
Nancy Finlay, “Up from the Ashes: Fire at the Meriden Britannia Company,” connecticuthistory.org