Gorham one of the oldest Silversmiths in the United States

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Gorham Manufacturing Company, Tureen, 1884.
Gorham Manufacturing Company, Tureen, 1884.

One of Oldest Silversmiths in USA

Gorham is a silversmith firm based in Providence, Rhode Island, United States.

History

Gorham is one of the United States oldest silver producers. In 1813, Jabez Gorham founded a jewellery-making business with four other men after a seven-year apprenticeship with Nehemiah Dodge of Providence, Rhode Island. The company was famed for their ‘Gorham chain,’ which was claimed to be of extraordinary quality. Gorham worked on his own until 1831 when he hired Henry L. Webster, a silversmith who specialised in coin-silver spoons.

William G. Price, a jeweller, joined the firm in 1837. Jabez Gorham retired in 1848 after bringing his son John Gorham into the firm, which became J. Gorham and Son. John Gorham was the titular director for 30 years, boosting mechanisation and production and converting the company to steam power in cooperation with his cousin Gorham Thurber for a brief period in the 1850s.

Machine automation

He set up a British stamping machine for quick flatware manufacturing, started making silver hollow-ware, and built a company sales programme. Gorham was one of the first companies to use automation to create silverware. Gorham discovered the electroplating technique at Elkington, England, in 1852 and introduced it to the Providence facility 11 years later. The Gorham Manufacturing Company was founded in 1863. The company adopted the silver standard in 1868 and significantly increased its output.

A Gorham Silver Centre Bowl
A Gorham Silver Centre Bowl

Bankruptcy and ownership change

In 1878, John Gorham entered bankruptcy and was replaced by Providence merchant William Crins. Edward Holbrook, who had joined the firm in 1870, succeeded Crins in 1894. Gorham supplied jewellers and small stores such as Spaulding in Chicago, Black, Starr and Frost in New York, and Shreve in San Francisco.

Influence of British Silversmiths

Most of the firm’s well-known designers and workers came from Britain between 1850 and 1915, including George Wilkinson of Birmingham, who came to Gorham in 1854 and was chief designer 1860—1891; Thomas J. Pairpoint, formerly with Lambert and Rawlings and at Gorham 1868—77; and A.J. Barrett, who came to Gorham in the late 1860s.

Holbrook oversaw a small crew of very experienced silversmiths that created a group of silversmiths led by William Christmas Codman, who arrived in Providence in 1891 from London. The group’s silverwork was offered under the trade name “MartelĂ©” in the early 1900s. The majority of the pieces had a hand-hammer finish.

Art Noveau Silver

Codman was the chief design director at Gorham from 1891 until 1914, where he created handcrafted silver in the Art Nouveau style.

Codman’s ‘MartelĂ©’ hollow-ware was made in 0.950 silver (British Standard) rather than 0.925 sterling in 1897. Initially, just vases, beakers, and bowls were available in the ‘MartelĂ©’ collection, which was later expanded to include whole tea sets and dinner courses.

Spaulding, Paris, created and sold hand-made ‘MartelĂ©’ items in a watered-down Art Nouveau style, as well as Louis XV motifs.

The ‘Athenic’ collection by Gorham combines silver with other metals. Erik Magnussen, a Danish silversmith, began designing for the company in 1925, using motifs typical of the Modern Danish style. One of Gorham’s silversmiths was Julius Randahl. However, his triangular-faceted Lights and Shadows of Manhattan coffee server had an American influence. Bronze casting became popular in the twentieth century. It had acquired numerous additional East Coast silver firms by the 1920s, notably Whiting Manufacturing Company. The company relocated to Smithfield, Rhode Island, in 1985.

Sources

Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.

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