An antiques dealer with an eye for the rare and fabulous, Mark Feder owns a remarkable array of American silverware. His collection includes Victorian-era pieces most people today would hardly recognize, each with its own specific purpose: elegant nutpicks, engraved petit four tongs, slender pickle forks, and even a potato chip server. He’s also the proud owner of a range of different cheese knives and scoops in various shapes and sizes, no doubt each for a certain type of cheese. “These pieces were used as table silver,” says Feder, who began collecting in high school. He keeps the silverware safely stored away at his home in Chatham, New York, but allowed us to photograph a few with real pieces of food and against illustrator Katy Smail’s work to create this striking photo essay.
In a personal statement, Feder shares more about his background: I began my career as an antiques dealer in 1968 while still in high school and then in 1971 with a shop in Queens, New York. Back in those days I was selling antique furniture and decorative accessories. I moved my business to Chatham, New York, in 1974 when I found a property with a perfect carriage house for an antique shop. I changed my focus to estate and antique jewelry, and ultimately sterling silver, around 1978 when I began to do antique shows. I felt it was easier to sell smaller items than to haul furniture, and I never looked back.
One summer weekend early in my career as a silver dealer, my parents visited me in Chatham. I decided to serve a barbecue with fine china, silver, and crystal. Each place setting had a dinner knife, dinner fork, salad fork, teaspoon, and flat butter spreader. I had a collection of salt cellars, pepper shakers, and mustard pots, and each guest had an individual condiment set. The china was Lenox Solitaire, the stemware was Heisey Colonial, and there were freshly ironed linen napkins. The table was beautifully set, but my pride and joy was my Gorham Chantilly sterling flatware. After dinner I asked my mother how everything was and she simply said, “Everything tastes better when eaten and served with sterling.”
My specialty has always been fine American sterling silver flatware and hollowware from 1850 to 1920, and my primary focus has been discontinued and obsolete antique place and serving pieces. My personal collection consists of several thousand pieces in several different silver patterns and various style periods from “the gilded age” of Victorian silver and the mid-century modern period. (My largest set, Tiffany & Co. Olympian, consists of 25 different place pieces and over 60 different serving pieces.)
The antique business has been very lucrative and exciting for me. The best part, aside from the collections that I have, are the many friends, customers, and antique dealers I have met along my many miles of travel.