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History of the Bowl

What is a Bowl?

A bowl is a container that has been utilised throughout history for the preparation and serving of food and drink. Bowls are round dishes, with spherical, hollow interiors. The edges and bottom of a bowl form a seamless curve. The form of a bowl makes it ideal for holding liquids and loose food. The exterior of a bowl is most often round.

History of the Bowl

Society has utilised bowls for millennia; the oldest discovered is 18,000 years old. Throughout history, remnants of silver hollowware have been found in tombs worldwide. In contrast, there is a distinct lack of flatware found in these excavations. This suggests that unsurprisingly finding a container for ones meal was a first priority for ancient civilisations.

Unearthed artefacts prove that silver has been a popular material for crafting bowls for many years. Bowls in this form have been found from societies such as the ancient Greeks, Etruscans, Egyptians, and Romans.

Another widely used technique for crafting bowls was pottery. This was particularly popular in ancient China and Greece. Elaborately decorated Chinese bowls can be found that date to the Neolithic period. In South Asian cultures, the bowl is still the typical form of vessel off which food is eaten, and on which it is served. Historically, small bowls were used for both eating and drinking. The Greeks utilised a wide variety of bowls. These included small items such as phiales and pateras, and bowl-shaped cups called kylices.

As time progressed so did craftsmanship skills; this is evidenced in the materials that bowls were made from. More durable materials such as silver became commonplace, as well as glass and silver-plate.

Different styles of bowl have also evolved throughout time, as a reaction to the needs, tastes, and trends of various cultures and societies.

history of the bowl
chinese silver bowl
antique silver bowl

Crafting Silver Bowls

There are many techniques for crafting bowls, ranging from pottery to woodwork. Antique silver bowls were likely crafted using one of two techniques (a process which didn’t vary much from region to region).

A silversmith would ‘sink’ silver by hammering a sheet of silver into a form the model of which was often carved from the stump of a tree. They would hammer around the edge of the form and move towards the centre of the sheet in slow circles. This method meant that ‘sunk’ bowls were often thicker on the bottom than the sides, although this did stabilise those with round bottoms.

A ‘raising’ technique took the opposite approach. However, this was more commonly used for deeper objects such as tea pots and pitchers.

Once this had been completed, the silversmith would follow with planishing. Here, the outside of the ‘sunk’ or ‘raised’ surface would be smoothed with a planishing hammer. This could then be followed with polishing or burnishing.

In an example of bowls appearance changing due to trends at the time, it was fashionable in the Arts and Crafts period to avoid disguising the work of the silversmith. So craftsmen would often not bother planishing their work.

Decorating Silver Bowls

Decoration on silver bowls varies widely depending on the date of the piece. However there are some common effects that have been enduringly popular throughout history. These include:


  • Enamelling
  • Niello
  • Engraving
  • Chasing
  • Pricking
  • Repoussé
  • Openwork


history of the bowl
Irish silver bowl
silver porringer

Types of Bowl

There have been many different types of bowl produced throughout its lifetime. These differ based on date, purpose, and many other factors. Bowls have played a distinct role in society throughout history, as they have been utilised in religious ceremonies, cultural events or as markers of class. Some examples of different types of bowl include:


  • Monteith bowl: This was originally used to keep glasses cold- it was filled with ice water to maintain a chilled temperature. This was popular as high society evolved and upper class social events became more common.
  • Quaich bowl: A drinking cup/ bowl that holds special significance at weddings, or traditional Scottish events such as Burn’s Night.
  • Punch bowl: Punch was first introduced to England around 1650 and shortly after, the popularity of the punch bowl, used at this point to serve spirits, rocketed.
  • Porringer: A feeding bowl commonly used for containing a wide variety of food and drinks such as bread, vegetables and milk.
  • Brandy bowl: Particular to 17th century Holland, the brandy bowl had two horizontal handles projecting from its rim. The brandy was sipped from this warm.
  • Sugar bowl: A small bowl designed for holding sugar granules or cubes, this was an integral part of the tea set that found popularity in the Georgian era.
  • Slop bowl: This was the vessel into which cold liquid was poured, to make room in a cup for fresh, hot tea.


Antique Silver Bowls

Although the history of bowls is incredibly fascinating, it is rare for collectors to find any of these truly ancient pieces as the fragments from these eras are more at home in a museum. However, antique silver bowls crafted from the 17th century onwards are much more available to collectors.

At AC Silver, we have a fascinating variety of antique sterling silver bowls. These range from grand centrepieces, samovars, jardinières and vases to bon bon dishes and sugar bowls.

This large collection of silver bowls features pieces from all over the world, with bowls crafted during the Georgian era, the Victorian era and the Edwardian era, as well as some twentieth century vintage items.

Our selection is comprised of exceptional examples of antique silver, all of which are the finest of their type that we have come across.

These pieces are especially exciting because they would have been used for all manners activities- from consumption of food and drink to being the centrepiece of a formal dining table.

Proud Members of

International Federation of Art and Antique Dealer Associations CINOA
National Association of Jewellery UK's trade association NAJ