Gorham Manufacturing Company (1831-)


GORHAM_Advertizement_1890.jpgGorham advertizement 1895One of eight children, Jabez Gorham was born on February 18, 1792. A few years after his father's death, Jabez was apprenticed at age 14 to Nehemiah Dodge, one of the founders of the silverware and jewelry industry in 18th-century New England. After learning his craft for seven years, Jabez formed a partnership that failed within five years. The determined young man then formed his own business as "Jabez Gorham, Jeweler." Achieving enough success to hire a small staff, Jabez was the first to make "French filigree" jewelry and a special kind of gold chain known as the Gorham chain. But the business struggled until 1831 when Jabez and his craftsmen began making "coin silver spoons," which had become quite popular throughout the northeast.

In 1831, Gorham silver was founded in Providence, Rhode Island by Jabez Gorham, a master craftsman, in partnership with Henry L. Webster. The firm's chief product was spoons of coin silver. The company also made thimbles, combs, jewelry, and other small items.

In 1842, a tariff which effectively blocked the importation of silverware from outside the United States was passed, which aided the American silver industry. Jabez Gorham did not take full advantage of this opportunity.

Jabez took on partners and the enterprise flourished. He sold his interest in the partnership and retired for a brief period. Then he repurchased the silver business from former partner Henry Webster, a talented silversmith. But, by now, Jabez was wealthy and he didn't want to devote much time to the business, so he brought his son, John, into the Gorham company. However, John left the company after only a few months because of problems with the foreman. He worked at various jobs and then rejoined his father as a partner in 1847. After John convinced his father to borrow a considerable sum to expand the company facility, Jabez sold his entire interest in the company to his son. John managed to pay off the debt and make the company grow. In fact, over the next 15 years, John and his associates evolved from a small shop that mostly made silver spoons to one of the largest and most prominent silverworks in the world. John Gorham introduced mechanized production methods, enlarged the premises in downtown Providence, improved the designs, and expanded the product line.

In 1852 Gorham toured many of Europe's silver workshops and manufacturers, speaking with individual specialists, including master craftsmen and toolmakers. He also sought out highly skilled foreign workmen to train his American workers. George Wilkinson, a premier designer and workshop manager, was hired from England.

Gorham_Chantilly.jpgGorham Chantilly pattern flatware In 1865 a charter was granted by the Rhode Island legislature by the name of "Gorham Manufacturing Company".

In 1890 the company relocated to a factory on Adelaide Avenue in Providence.

In 1895 the famed Gorham designer, William C. Codman, designed Chantilly, which has become the most famous of Gorham's flatware patterns. Matching holloware has been made in both sterling and silverplate.
In 1905 the firm opened a show and sales office on Fifth Avenue in New York City, which was designed for Gorham by renowned architect Stanford White. In 1906 Gorham purchased another long-time rival, Kerr & Co, which was based in New Jersey.

The company was purchased by Textron in 1967, a move that some critics claim decreased quality due to management's lack of understanding of Gorham's specialty, producing high-quality sterling silverware and holloware.

Gorham was owned by Brown-Forman Corporation from 1991 to 2005 until it was sold to Department 56 in the Lenox holdings transaction.

Major commissions

The White House has used Gorham silver services during many administrations. Mary Todd Lincoln purchased an impressive tea and flatware service for use in the White House in 1859. Mrs. Abraham Lincoln's tea service was presented to the National Museum of American History in 1957. Mrs. Grant chose Gorham to help commemorate the nation's Centennial in 1876.

Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant asked Gorham to commemorate the country's one-hundredth anniversary with a spectacular Century Vase that contained over 2,000 ounces of sterling silver, and a grand "loving cup" composed of 70,000 dimes was designed for Admiral George Dewey in 1899.

The largest single commission Gorham ever received was the famous Furber service. Ordered by Colonel Henry Jewett Furber, the president of Universal Life Insurance Company of New York, the opulent 740-piece service represents Victorian era dining at its most elaborate. The monumental silver and parcel-gilt "Neptune" epergne made for Furber as part of this service was displayed at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876. A large portion of the service now can be viewed at the Rhode Island School of Design as part of its exhibit on American decorative arts.

The George W. Bush family chose Gorham's Chantilly as the flatware service on Air Force One.

Gorham artisans also sculptured the famous monument of George Washington in the Capitol's Rotunda, the statue of Theodore Roosevelt that overlooks the Museum of Natural History in New York, and the famous "Independent Man" which tops Rhode Island's state house.

Gorham designed a number of elaborate trophies for sporting events, including the Borg-Warner Trophy for the Indianapolis 500 (designed by Robert J. Hill), the Davis Cup for tennis and the America's Cup for yachting.

Throughout the years, other exhibitions of hand-hammered silver tables and ornate and imaginative holloware pieces in silver and gold earned Gorham worldwide acclaim. Gorham won the Grand Prize Medal, Gold Medal and many other international awards.

European recognition

In 1886 a commentator wrote in the London Magazine of Art:

If we go to one of the first London silversmiths and ask for spoons and forks, we are met at once with the smiling query. "Yes, Sir; fiddle or old English?" Fiddle or old English! If we decline both those chaste designs we are assured that there is still a large selection of patterns remaining. The "Lily", the "Beaded", "King's Pattern", and "Queen's Pattern." There perforce, our choice must end....Mark the difference, in this one article, between the supine conservatism of the English manufacturers and the alertness and constant progress of the American maker. For instance [Gorham] would not be satisfied unless it produced every year or two new patterns, nearly all of which are beautiful, and of which they will produce a complete service of all articles for table use from a salt-spoon to a soup ladle.

In 1893 a French observer was surprised by America's "remarkable fertility in the variety of its patterns for table services." Of the flatware patterns designed by F. A. Heller (1839-1904) for Gorham he wrote "we have no idea of the richness of ornamentation of these services, and of the amount of talent expended by him in the engraving of the dies which he has made on the other side of the Atlantic."

Source : Wikipedia and Gorham official web site

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