When the German-born philanthropist and collector Franz Mayer decided to open his private collection of decorative arts to the public, the most important silver collection in Mexico was discovered among his treasures. Today it can be admired inside a hall of the Franz Mayer Museum in Mexico City, and there is no corner of this room that doesn’t shine.
Although Spanish conquistadors originally came to Mexico looking for cities made of gold, they would later discover a staggering amount of silver in the hills. Since then, Mexico has become the main exporter of this precious metal, and for many years one of the primary industries of Mexican artisans was crafting baroque silverware.
Upon arriving in Mexico in the early 20th century, Mayer decided to acquire many of the most impressive artisan silver pieces in the country. The museum now displays a collection of just over 1,290 pieces of fine silver made between the 15th and 19th centuries.
The silver exhibit is divided into sections: trays, religious artifacts, tableware, and otherwise mundane everyday items like door locks and boxes for tobacco storage. The museum explains how silver pieces were crafted by the goldsmiths of the era, and you can even see with a magnifying glass the marks and stamps that were made to indicate the quality of an object, where it came from, and where it was going.
You can’t help but be impressed when learning about the intricacies of these amazingly detailed baroque works. One of the most peculiar parts of the exhibit is the collection of “cocos chocolateros,” a kind of cup used during viceregal Mexico exclusively to drink chocolate, made with handles intricately decorated with cocoa seeds. There are also beautifully crafted silver fruit bowls, candlesticks, cup holders, and coffee cups. The most amazing thing is to imagine that all of these were objects of daily use in the houses of the upper class.
Know Before You Go
The museum is located in downtown Mexico City (Centro Histórico), open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed Mondays).