While the taste for Viking Revival design crossed from the nineteenth into the early twentieth century, interest in producing such pieces had initially accelerated as the nation approached the four hundredth anniversary of Columbus’s first landing and the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 (also known as the Chicago World’s Fair). Tiffany and Company created several major pieces for exhibit at the fair. Among these was the much-admired and much-talked about Viking Punch Bowl, designed specifically to commemorate pre-Columbian explorations of North America. Twenty and a half inches in diameter, with a plain silver interior, the Viking Punch Bowl was made of “‘decarbonized iron,’ meaning iron that has been heated to a very high temperature to eliminate virtually all carbon content in order to make it malleable.” With this nod to the advanced iron technology of medieval Scandinavia, the Tiffany designer Paulding Farnham (1859–1927) then proceeded to work the now- malleable iron. It was hammered, etched, and inlaid with complex patterns in gold and silver. “Its eight handles [with Norse mythological creatures etched into them] pass through the lip to terminate in shapes like the prows of Viking ships.” The punch bowl was so successful that Farnham designed more Viking Revival pieces for subsequent fairs, both in Europe and the U.S. But the Viking Punch Bowl exhibited at the World’s Columbian Exposition had a special resonance. Whether intended or not, it seemed to take sides in the swelling national debate that led up to the fair: Should the nation be celebrating Columbus as its discoverer or Leif Eiriksson?
Image courtesy and copyright The Metropolitan Museum of Art / Art Resource, New York.
Text from In Search of First Contact: The Vikings of Vinland, the Peoples of the Dawnland, and the Anglo-American Anxiety of Discovery by Annette Kolodny (Duke University Press, 2012).