Strange silverware featuring sheep connected to South East

BAAAAA-FFLING: What was the purpose of this centrepiece?

BAAAAA-FFLING: What was the purpose of this centrepiece?

A mysterious silver centrepiece created by famous craftsman Harry Steiner has been located by historians, and traced back to the region’s colonial history.

The centrepiece – known as an epergne – emerged most recently from the Horsham area of Victoria.

But how it originally got there, and the epergne’s purpose, continues to perplex.

 “It must have a rural connection, quite possibly in the SE of South Australia or Western Victoria,” said Jim Elder, of Elder Fine Art in Adelaide.

“It would seem to be a celebration of the sheep industry since it features a number of most perfectly depicted silver sheep upon a pasture of grass and flowers.

“They stand around the base of a giant tree fern and beneath an array of very finely-wrought silver fern leaves. The detail is amazing.”

Epergnes were designed to stand prominently on the table, their high glass bowls holding fruit or flowers. Sometimes, it was fashionable to work an emu egg into their design.

Strangely, given this piece’s beauty and value, it had been painted over with silver frost and required significant cleaning and restoration to bring it back to its former glory.

“We know that Steiner made this piece in 1870 but it is important for posterity that its history is not lost for future generations,” Mr Elder said.

“Was it an award for some feted pastoralist of yore? Was it for sheep breeding or wool or sales? For public service? Was it presented by a leading dignitary at a regional Royal show, or by a visiting Duke in a glittering city ceremony?

“Who commissioned it? Why was it lost for so long? What’s its story?”

Mr Elder explained that finely wrought silver artefacts were considered to be highly prestigious prizes in colonial times.

“Those were golden days of affluence and style. Often such items carried celebratory plaques identifying the reason for their creation.

“But not this one.”

Images have been sent to art and agricultural historians in an attempt to find the answers.

Henry Steiner set up his business in Adelaide’s Rundle Street after arriving from Germany in the 1850s, and quickly made his name as one of Australia’s great craftsman. His works feature in many national galleries.