About the collections
The Silver Collection
Brudekrone i delvis forgylt sølv av Jacob Christian Ravn, 1854. Foto: Dag Fosse / Kode
Kode stewards the country’s foremost silver collection. It consists of thousands of objects which have arrived at the museum throughout 125 years.
This includes corpus, cutlery, jewellery, traditional costume accessories and enamelwork.
Most of the material stems from Bergen, but the museum also has significant works from other cities in Norway and abroad.
Kode has previously displayed the silver collection in a permanent exhibition at Permanenten called "The Silver Treasure". Because of redecoration work the collection has not been accessible for the public since 2021.
Bergensian silver at Kode
Ever since the foundation of the West Norway Museum of Decorative Art in 1887, silver has been a prioritized area of collecting.
Towards the end of the 19th century, older silverwork became popular souvenirs among tourists from abroad and many objects were brought out of the country. In the light of this, the museum made great efforts to secure this part of Norwegian inheritance for the future.
Bergensian silver’s unique position is the result of it standing out qualitatively and quantitatively among the Norwegian material. About half of all silver from the guild period(1568 to ca. 1840) stems from Bergen.
Since the renaissance, the city has been a vital centre for the production of art and utility objects of gold and silver. This demonstrates that goldsmith art from Bergen held international standards when there was little else art in Norway and tells of close cultural connections to the European continent.
Due to this unique material, Kode has a proud tradition for research on silver and have, among other things, published the standard works "Bergens gullsmedkunst i laugstiden" (1957) og "Bergens gullsmedkunst 1840-1940" (2001).
The silver collection has been partly supplied through purchases, but the museum has still been fully dependent on the goodwill of private donors.
One example is local patron Christian Sundt (1816—1901) who donated prominent Norwegian and foreign works during the museum’s first year of existence.
This tradition has been followed up in later years by among others businessman Christen Sveaas, who donated an impressive collection of Bergensian silver in 2009.
The museum stewards a series of magnificent renaissance and baroque tankards. These were used for drinking beer on social occasions, where the tankards were passed around from guest to guest. They are often decorated with engraved or patterned figure scenes or plant ornamentation, and the workmanship bears witness to the high standards of the goldsmiths in Bergen.
Another symbol-heavy group of items are the guilds’ welcome cups. The guilds were professional associations that had monopoly on production and trade within a certain geographic area. The cups were an important part of the guilds’ rituals. They were used on special occasions, for instance for the initiation of new members.
From the 18th century we have a number of silver items related to coffee and tea drinking. These were pleasurable beverages imported from distant continents and they revolutionized the city’s social life. From the same period, we have a large collection of snuff boxes, containers for scented water and clocks that were essential accessories for the members of the upper class.
In the years around 1900 the city entered a new golden age. This is represented by a number of silver and enamel works from goldsmiths like Marius Hammer and Theodor Olsen, who created magnificent dragon style and art nouveau decorative pieces and table silverware, and also souvenirs for the foreign tourist market.
The goldsmiths applied industrialism’s production methods and gained great recognition on exhibitions at home and abroad. Their works contributed to the establishment of a distinctive national identity, where the Norwegian cultural heritage became the foundation for a new and modern type of design.
The silver collection also includes several foreign works, who serve as a reference work for the Norwegian material. Among the highlights you find two nautilus shell cups from the 17th century, made of snail shell-like nautilus shells mounted in silver.
Several purchases were also made at the Paris Exhibition of 1900 from renowned English and French goldsmiths, among others Maison Vever, Cardeilhac and Goldsmith’s & Silversmith’s Company.
During the last decades, the museum has collected works from especially Norwegian artisans who use silver in new and untraditional ways. They combine it with less noble materials while simultaneously drawing on the metal’s historic traditions.
Today, there are several artisans working with jewellery and corpus in Norway, resulting in most welcome regular additions to our collection.