Fancy Brew: Quick Bite

Winter is dishing out a chilly mess, but here at Museum Quick Bites we’re serving up a hot, tasty brew. Crafted from Martelé silver by the Gorham Manufacturing Company, this dazzling coffee pot (1900) is on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Silver Coffeepot (1900) by Gorham Manufacturing Co., Detroit Institute of Arts, Photo by cjverb (2020)

Sleek and shiny, this beauty is tricked out with amethysts, citrines, garnets, opals, and sapphires. Zoom in and feast your eyes on the jaunty, wavy-brimmed cap, serpent-like spout, and ornate bouquet of blooms. There’s no doubt this stunning coffee pot added a splash of panache to one’s morning brew.

Silver Coffeepot (close up; 1900) by Gorham Manufacturing Co., Detroit Institute of Arts, Photo by cjverb (2020)

Fun Arty Fact #1: Martelé means hammered (with a tool, not the boozy version 😉 ) in French.

Fruit Plate (1881) by Gorham Manufacturing Co., Dallas Museum of Art, Photo by Daderot, Wikimedia Commons

The Gorham Manufacturing Company was established in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1831 by Jabez Gorham (1792-1869). Initially, they produced handcrafted silver teaspoons, thimbles, combs, and other small items. In 1848, Jabez’s son, John (1820-1898) took over running the company. In an effort to expand the business, John traveled to the United Kingdom to recruit silversmiths and purchase a steam-powered drop press in order to mass produce silverware. His hard work paid off, and Gorham silver became the got-to-have-it merchandise.

Spoon for Ice Bowl (1869) by Gorham Manufacturing Co., High Museum of Art, Photo by Wm Pearl, Wikimedia Commons

Left: Gorham Manufacturing Co. (1886), engraving from The Providence Plantations for 250 Years by Welcome Arnold Greene, Wikimedia Commons

Top Right: Salt & Pepper Shakers (c.1875-85) by Gorham Manufacturing Co., Cleveland Museum of Art

Bottom Right: Salt Cellar & Spoon (1884) by Gorham Manufacturing Co., Cleveland Museum of Art

Fun Arty Fact #2:  In the early 1860s, Mary Todd Lincoln (1818-1882) chose Gorham’s Josephine silverware pattern for the White House. This was the first pattern manufactured on the company’s new press. Gorham’s King Charles design was selected by former First Lady, Pat Nixon in 1974, and is still in use at the White House today.

Mary Todd Lincoln (1858), Photo by Mathew B. Brady, Wikimedia Commons

In 1878, John was forced to declare bankruptcy and William Crins, a Providence businessman, was hired to manage Gorham Manufacturing. By the turn of the last century, Gorham was the leading producer of silver throughout the world. Known for its gorgeous, innovative styles, Gorham’s designs range from the practical to the whimsical, and often reflect the art movement of the time. For example, this silver Cubic Coffee Service (1927) pictured below, is a nod to Cubism.

Left: Cubist Tea Set (1927) by Gorham Manufacturing, Rhode Island School of Design

Center: Martelé Dressing Table & Stool by Gorham Manufacturing Company (1899), Photo by Daderot, Wikimedia Commons

Right: Martelé Silver Pitcher (1904) by Gorham Manufacturing, High Museum of Art, Photo by WmPearl, Wikimedia Commons

The company was sold to Textron in 1967 and today, is a division of the Lenox Corporation. In June of 2019, the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) featured a 600-piece Gorham exhibit. Click on this Gorham Silver: Designing Brilliance 1850–1970 at the RISD Museum link for a look-see. Want more?  Click on this Gorham silver link, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Fun Arty Fact #3: Gorham products can be identified by their mark which consists of a lion (a symbol for sterling), an anchor (a symbol for their Rhode Island roots), and the letter “G”, for Gorham.

Gorham Mark (c1905) by Gorham Manufacturing, Cleveland Museum of Art

That wraps up our look at Gorham silver. If you’d like to learn more about the history of coffee, click on this Museum Bites: Clever Monks and Dancing Goats link. Museum Bites will be off the next few weeks for the holidays. However you celebrate, wishing you a fun and festive holiday, and Happy New Year!

Cover photo by Daria-Yakovleva, courtesy of Pixabay.


British Museum: Gorham Manufacturing Company

Brown University Library: Gorham Manufacturing Company Archive

Dallas Museum of Art: Martelé Dressing Table and Stool (1899)

Detroit Institute of Arts: Gorham Manufacturing Silver Coffee Pot (1900)

Martha Stewart: The Language of Silver Marks (2011)

Metropolitan Museum of Art: Gorham Manufacturing

Museum Bites: Clever Monks and Dancing Goats

New York Times: A Historical Display of Artistry in Silver (1983)

New York Times: Textron Set to Acquire Gorham, Providence Maker of Silverware (1967)


Providence Journal

Rhode Island School of Design: Gorham Silver Designing Brilliance 1850-1970

Smithsonian Archives of American Art: Gorham Manufacturing Company

The Atlantic: Thanksgiving at the White House (2015)

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