In Colonial America luxury silver items were imported from Europe, but by the late seventeenth century American silversmiths had begun to produce domestic wares; many of these emulated the aesthetics of British and Northern European design and ornament. An increase in the demand for and production of elegant dining silverware was caused by both the Tariff of 1842, which imposed heavy taxes on imported goods such as silver, and the flourishing economy following the Civil War. As the industry grew from local workshops to large factories, manufacturers such as Kirk & Sons and Tiffany & Company were established.
Kirk & Sons, one of the oldest American silver manufacturers, was founded in 1815 in Baltimore, Maryland. Their work became renowned for its high-quality, durability, and ornate beauty. Kirk reintroduced to American silver-making the tradition of repoussé, in which a surface pattern is created by beating or applying force to the reverse side of the metal, producing a design in high relief. The popularity of Kirk & Sons’ work reflected the emergence of the Rococo Revival style in nineteenth-century America, which was characterized by elaborate decoration and ornamental opulence.
During the nineteenth century the role of the designer became more important in silversmithing. Tiffany & Company, founded in 1837 by Charles Louis Tiffany (the father of Louis Comfort Tiffany, renowned for his glasswork and jewelry) employed a succession of highly influential and skilled designers, and soon became well known for creating beautiful pieces, whose elegant and timeless designs remain popular even today.