Gorham Silver: Prices, Marks and History
From silverware to tea services, antique silver has become a timeless staple of an entertainer’s toolkit. Over the years, silver manufacturers around the world have introduced a variety of innovative techniques and motifs that have rendered their name in a class of its own. Among the most turned-to American makers is Gorham silver, a name made famous by landmark commissions for Presidential families, major awards, and other prominent projects. But beyond the company’s special commissions, Gorham’s prolific production of tea sets, serving trays, candelabra, napkin rings, silverware and more remain one of the most popular searches among Invaluable collectors. Here, we explore how the maker rose to prominence in the 19th century, the most popular patterns available, and the prices they fetch at auction today.
The History of Gorham Silver
The U.S.-based Gorham Manufacturing Company first opened its doors in 1831 in Providence, Rhode Island, under the management of co-founders Jabez Gorham and Henry Webster. The intrepid duo had hoped to build a business creating smaller wares such as buttons and combs. In the late-1840s, however, when Jabez handed control of the company over to his son, John, Gorham’s production began to focus on larger silver sets.
Part of the motivation for this production move stemmed from new taxes that made the import of major European silver makers’ works into the United States much more costly. Having enjoyed the opportunity to tour European silver studios during past travels, Gorham worked to recreate those drop presses and silversmithing techniques in his Rhode Island workshop. He even went so far as to hire European craftsmen, such as George Wilkinson (1819–1894), to better incorporate Old World style into Gorham designs.
The Rise and Fall of Gorham Manufacturing
The result was the exponential growth of Gorham’s popularity, spurred by First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln’s commission of a silver set for the White House in 1859. Also contributing to Gorham’s growth was the introduction of both plated silver and holloware pieces by the late 1860s. During the 1890s, Gorham created some of what would become their most beloved patterns. These designs, which were in part due to the vision of then-director William Codman, were featured in the company’s upscale boutiques in major cities like New York and served only to further the acclaim of the maker.
This inertia of success continued into the twentieth century when innovative leadership under Erik Magnussen ushered in incredibly popular Art Deco forms. By the midpoint of the century, though, America’s love of silver began to wane, and in 1967 Gorham was sold to Textron, a Providence-based industrial conglomerate. A merger with Lenox Holdings in 2005 would signal Gorham’s downfall (Lenox would go bankrupt only four years later). The good news is that Gorham’s legacy still lives on today, in large part due to prominent commissions, like the Century Vase ordered by First Lady Julia Grant for the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition and the 1935 Indianapolis 500 Borg-Warner Trophy. Gorham’s enduring appeal is also a direct response to its extensive repertoire that includes a diverse array of silver pieces and services.
Gorham Silver Marks
Gorham silver can be easily dated with a little knowledge of their various marks over the years.
Early Gorham Silver Marks
The earliest mark seen on Gorham pieces is that which features an anchor flanked by both a lion and a letter “G”. This straightforward mark was used for the first twenty years of Gorham’s production with little modification.
By 1868, additions to existing Gorham silver marks were necessary thanks to the company’s adoption of sterling silver wares. As such, each year of production between 1868 and 1884 was noted with a capital letter.
From 1885 to 1933, each year of production was captured in a small icon (such as a flower for 1894 or an acorn for 1924).
From 1940 onward, Gorham silver marks changed each decade to include the year inscribed within a polygon with the same number of sides as the decade itself (for example, if a piece was made in 1947, its mark would feature the number “7” inscribed within a four-sided shape to reflect the 1940 decade).
First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln’s 1859 commission of a Gorham silver was a watershed moment: not only did the set serve as the first created on Gorham’s newly installed drop presses, but it was also one of the first major commissions for the company. The design proved so popular that it was put into production, later becoming known as Gorham’s “Josephine” pattern. What attracted a broader audience of consumers, though, was the 1864 release of Gorham’s “Medallion” pattern. Designed by Wilkinson, the pattern featured a Neoclassical-style bust inset within a cartouche, or medallion, interspersed with delicate scrolling motifs.
Image 1: Medallion Silver Tea/Coffee Service and Compote
Rago Arts and Auction Center, Lambertville, NJ (January 2015)
Price Realized: $11,875
Image 2: Gorham Medallion Pattern Silver Water Pitcher
Grogan & Company, Boston, MA (February 2017)
Price Realized: $2,250
Image 3: Set of Twenty Three Pieces of American Medallion Flatware
Heritage Auctions, Dallas, TX (March 2009)
Price Realized: $1,434
Image 4: Gorham “Medallion” Coin Silver Butter Dish
Leland Little Auctions, Hillsborough, NC (December 2013)
Price Realized: $1,100
The “Martelé” pattern debuted in the early 1890s and became one of the first major successes under Codman’s tenure as director of design. Named after the French verb for “to hammer,” the Martelé pattern was noteworthy as it featured a silver slightly softer than the standard .950 sterling grade and thus could be molded into a dynamic array of patterns channeling the organic whimsy of Art Nouveau style. The striking beauty of the pattern was underscored in 1900, when a Martelé silver dressing table surpassed competitors like Tiffany & Co. to win the Grand Prix at the World’s Fair in Paris that year. Recent examples with strong provenance have sold for over $20,000, though many smaller pieces have sold between $1,000 to $10,000 dollars, depending on demand and condition.
Image 1: Gorham Martelé Sterling Silver Loving Cup
Doyle New York, New York, NY (October 2017)
Price Realized: $25,000
Image 2: An American silver six-piece tea and coffee set with matching two-handled tray
Sotheby’s, New York, NY (January 2015)
Price Realized: $22,500
Image 3: Gorham Martele Four Piece Coffee Set
Morphy Auctions, Denver, PA (June 2018)
Price Realized: $8,000
Image 4: A Gorham Martelé Silver Vase
Hindman, Chicago, IL (July 2019)
Price Realized: $4,000
Gorham’s “Chantilly” pattern could be considered even more popular than the Martelé style, if not taking the title as the most popular sterling hollowware line ever made by the maker. As another masterful design credited to Codman, the Chantilly pattern debuted in 1895 and drew inspiration from aesthetics of seventeenth-century French King Louis XIV. As such, Gorham Chantilly pieces feature a fleur-de-lis motif paired with Rococo-style scrollwork and floral accents.
Image 1: Set of Twelve Gorham “Chantilly-Grand” Sterling Silver Service Plates
New Orleans Auction Galleries, New Orleans, LA (July 2017)
Price Realized: $6,250
Image 2: A seven-piece Gorham Chantilly pattern silver tea and coffee service
Heritage Auctions, Dallas, TX (October 2017)
Price Realized: $5,500
Image 3: Large Pair of Gorham “Chantilly-Grand” Sterling Silver Candelabra
New Orleans Auction Galleries, New Orleans, LA (March 2019)
Price Realized: $4,500
Image 4: Chantilly-Grand Gorham Sterling Tray
Brunk Auctions, Asheville, NC (November 2011)
Price Realized: $3,500
Image 5: Gorham Chantilly Sterling Silver Water Goblets
Dallas Auction Gallery, Dallas, TX (March 2014)
Price Realized: $3,250
Image 6: Gorham Chantilly Sterling Silver Water Pitcher
Cottone Auctions, Geneseo, NY (May 2017)
Price Realized: $1,783
Similar in its Rococo flourish to the wildly popular Chantilly pattern, Gorham’s “Strasbourg” designed was released in 1897 and offered plumes, reverse scrollwork, and curved shell motifs upon a glossy silver surface.
Image 1: A Set of Ten Gorham “Strasbourg” Sterling Silver Goblets
Leland Little Auctions, Hillsborough, NC (September 2019)
Price Realized: $3,000
Image 2: 79 pieces of collection of Gorham sterling silver flatware in the “Strasbourg” pattern
Northgate Gallery, Hixson, TN (April 2014)
Price Realized: $2,800
Image 3: Gorham Strasbourg Sterling Silver Tea Set
Nest Egg Auctions, Berlin, CT (March 2018)
Price Realized: $1,800
Image 4: Gorham “Strasbourg” Sterling Silver Tray
New Orleans Auction Galleries, New Orleans, LA (October 2014)
Price Realized: $1,599
Image 5: Gorham Strasbourg Sterling Tea Set
Ivy Auctions, Laurens, SC (November 2019)
Price Realized: $1,150
Image 6: Gorham Strasbourg silver flatware service (63pcs)
Charlton Hall, West Columbia, SC (February 2018)
Price Realized: $650
Gorham silver offers timeless pieces in a wide range of price points — from the presidential Josephine pattern from Gorham’s early years or a striking Art Deco creation from the company’s early twentieth-century lines. With sophisticated flatware, breathtaking tea sets, and iconic serving pieces, there is surely room for everyone to find their own scintillating side to Gorham silver.
Looking for more? Explore Gorham silver available now on Invaluable.