American, birth date unknown - 1955
Tiffany & Co., manufacturer (New York)
Tête-à-Tête tea service, 1939
Kettle: H. 13 7/8 in.
Tray: Dia. 14 in.
In marked contrast to European designers, participation in world fairs had been a low priority in America. Most design firms were indifferent at best. Their primary marketing tool continued to be print advertising stressing name recognition, product quality, silverware-as-art, and its importance in daily life. At the 1939 New York World's Fair however, Tiffany & Company sought to demonstrate in one grand gesture that their designs were every bit as moderne as their French counterparts.
While the unadorned surfaces and clean lines of this unique piece do reflect a strong French influence, its sleek streamlining is more common to American designs of the period. Even more avant-garde is the black synthetic fiber inset into the handles (a daring statement when combined with a precious metal such as sterling silver). The service was designed for and first displayed in the House of Jewels pavilion where Tiffany, Cartier and Black, Starr & Frost-Gorham all exhibited their finest and most expensive work (its production cost in 1939 was $2,200). The service was purchased by a New York collector at the '39 Fair, remaining in her possession until acquired by the New York gallery, Historical Design, in 1993 and subsequently by Norwest a year later.