Gorham-“Purveyor to His Majesty”.

To give you an idea of the diversity of material to be found within the Gorham Archives, I’d like to share this handwritten letter form the Royal Palace in Brussels, Belgium dated December 17, 1900.

It seems that upon attending the Paris Exposition of 1900, along with many other of the crowned heads of the world, the king of Belgium was much impressed with the Gorham exhibit.  Apparently he was so moved that he ordered “Le Chef du Cabinet du Roi” (Chief of the King’s Cabinet) to write this letter authorizing the Gorham Manufacturing Company to take the title of  “Fournisseur de sa Majesté le Roi des Belges” (Purveyor to His Majesty the King of the Belgians).

I have also included images in this post of a hand written translation of this letter dated December 17, 1900, and the envelope bearing the royal crest in which these documents were sent.


The Hand Raising Process

It is believed that the Gorham Company expanded into the making of hollow ware as well as flatware sometime in the 1880’s.  In order to do so it became necessary to hire craftspeople skilled in the technique of hand raising, as well as to acquire the appropriate hand tools and equipment.

Hand raising is the process of forming an object, such as a hollow vessel, from a flat sheet of metal by alternately hammering and annealing.

Upon the opening of the new Elmwood Avenue  plant in 1890, all of the latest machinery was employed and much of the hand raising was replaced by various machine spinning techniques.  However, many of the sample and special orders, as well as the Martelé line were still hand raised.

The Gorham archives include the photo documentation of much of its facilities, activities, and production techniques.  Here, I’m sharing with you a series which illustrate the hand raising process.

William Crins

William Crins

William Crins

recently I came across this picture of William Crins who was president of Gorham Manufacturing from 1878-1894.  This picture is also shown in the book “Gorham Silver 1831-1981” by Charles H. Carpenter Jr.

According to Carpenter’s book, in a section called “The Diaries of William Crins” pages 136-140, he was 69  years old when the Gorham company commenced with plans for the construction of the new Elmwood Avenue plant in 1888.  During this period in the company’s history Mr. Crins oversaw the original Steeple Street plant as well as the construction and oversight of  the new location.

The home of William Crins, unlike the two Gorham factories he oversaw, still stands today.  Approximately 1 mile south of the Steeple Street location and 1 mile north of the Elmwood plant location.

William Crins died on May 20, 1904 at the age of eighty five at his home on Linden Street in Providence which is where this picture was taken.  His obituary stated “His home was a refuge to which he ever hastened for quiet and rest”.

I’ve also included some recent photos of the parlor in which the above picture of Mr. Crins was taken so you can see his home as it appears today.

J. Russell Price and Gorham

Here we have an example of Gorham porcelain table ware from the 1950’s and 1960’s. This cup and saucer, designed by J. Russell Price, and manufactured by the Flintridge China Company was recently donated to our archives by Charles Osenton. I suggest you read the following post titled Gorham in the 1950’s and 60’s for more information on Mr. Price, Mr. Osenton, and the Flintridge China Company.

Gorham Cup and Saucer

Gorham in the 1950s and 60s

I want to report on a conversation I had last week with Charles Osenton, who worked in sales at Gorham from about 1950 until his retirement in 1972.  It’s the kind of conversation institutional professionals don’t often get to have with someone who had a hand in the workings of a major collection in their holdings, but one which sheds a lot of light on the kind of documents we stumble upon every day yet don’t have the context to fully understand ourselves, let alone explain to our patrons.  Of course, because Charles worked for Gorham  after the Martele line was discontinued, this post won’t have much of a connection to our work on the IMLS database project.  Still, the information he provided is part of the overall picture of Gorham’s own industrial evolution, and I think those of you who are collectors of all things Gorham, as well as industrial designers and historians, may find it interesting.

When Mr. Osenton was at Gorham, he recalled,  J. Russell Price was the principle designer.  In fact, Price was a RISD alumnus who had been hired as Director of Design at Gorham in 1935, but then left in 1952 to become Director of Design at the Royal Doulton China Company in England.  He resumed his post at Gorham in 1963, and presided over one of the more interesting periods in Gorham’s history.  As Mr. Osenton recalled, Price designed just about all of the flatware patterns the company was producing under the Gorham name.  Price had a fairly broad range as a designer:  compare, for example, his 1938 Greenbrier pattern, shown here:  http://www.sterlingflatwarefashions.com/PatternsGorham7.html with his design for Sovereign-Old (http://www.sterlingflatwarefashions.com/PatternsGorham16.html), just three years later.  With his intervening experience at Royal Doulton, Price was uniquely qualified to help Gorham diversify when the market for consumer silver wares began to decline in the mid-1960s.  In 1968, Gorham officially embarked on a diversification program into what Mr. Osenton called “total table top” industries, including the manufacture of china, crystal and even fine writing papers.  As Gorham had no expertise in any of these lines, they relied on acquisitions to make the plan work.  In 1970, for example, they acquired the Flintridge China Company in Pasadena,  California, a maker of fine translucent china in both ivory and white.  Gorham discontinued most of the existing Flintridge patterns, and Price then designed a sequence of new patterns for Flintridge to produce that were marketed under the Gorham name.  In fact, Mr. Osenton brought with him a sample cup and saucer designed by Price and marked with the Gorham name to donate to the Gorham Company Archive.  Mr. Osenton also mentioned a paper company that Gorham acquired in Lenox, Massachusetts, but he could not remember its name.  You’ll find some further details on J. Russell Price and his career at Gorham in Sam Hough’s Roster of Gorham Craftsmen, which is linked to the left.

While Mr. Osenton was at Gorham, during Price’s second reign as Director of Design, the small staff of four in Product Development answered to the folks in Product Design.  In fact, the sales staff (of which Mr. Osenton was initially a part and later headed) played a critical role in the development of new products, because they were out on the front lines with customers and got direct feedback on what Gorham patterns and products were selling in particular places and the kinds of designs that consumers in those areas found appealing.  Early American patterns, for example, sold well in New England, but poorly in Texas and California.  As the designers had to evaluate what would sell, they studied fashion trends.  The knowledge brought back to the designers by the sales team was important for developing successful products.   One personal success that Mr. Osenton described took place in 1969, when Gorham launched its first Christmas tree ornament, in the form of a sterling silver snowflake.  That year, Mr. Osenton was able to sell one-third of the entire production to a single retailer, J.E. Caldwell in Philadelphia.

Loving Cup ISJ, Presentation Drawing

Presentation Drawing, Loving Cup ISJHere we have a wonderful example of a presentation drawing, done in gauche on paper, and measuring 88 x 70 c/m. Notice the rendering technique used to relay each detail of the design prior to the projects execution. At the bottom of this drawing you will see the “plan” which explains the intended shape and placement of the handles.

More on Loving Cup ISJ

Here we have the original photograph of the finished piece which is nice to compare to the drawing in the previous post (Loving Cup ISJ, Presentation Drawing). I’m also showing you the cost slip which tells us the date it was made, that it is Martelé, and the production process involved.

I’d also like to add a request to anyone who may know the location of this or any other of the pieces referred to on this blog to comment and perhaps add an image.

Presentation Drawing of Coffee Set IHE, IHF

Presentation Drawing Black coffee Set IHE, IHFI was quite pleased to find this presentation drawing, not only is it in such good condition but it is signed by William Codman. At first I believed it to be a design of William C. Codman, the originator of Gorham’s Martelé style, but upon identifying it as IHE and IHF the records date this set to November 3, 1930, nine years after William C. Codman’s death. My feeling is that this design is then by Codman’s son, also named William, who became Gorham’s art director sometime after William C.’s retirement.

Black Coffee Set IHE and IHF

Here we have a packet of photo cards which show black coffee set IHE and tray IHF. The Brown University Library has several units of card file drawers filled with these packets. They were used by sales representatives to show or send to perspective customers, many times they were glued into albums and “taken on the road”. I find these photo cards to be a great resource tool for identifying unmarked drawings and photographs as well as to see a piece in its original presentation.

Photo Card Black Coffee Set IHE, IHF

Notice the label, as well as giving the dimensions of the pieces it verifies that the design is Martelé by saying so, and by the mark .9584 Fine.

Martele Blue Prints

I have found very few blue prints for Martelé designs, so far only three. These two from the collection of the RISD Museum are of Black Coffee Set IHE, and Tray IHF. Since Martelé pieces were special order and hand made, rather than mass produced it’s possible blue prints were not used in the majority of the line. Also it’s important to note that set IHE and IHF were made around 1930 which is quite late for Martelé, therefore blue prints may not have been used for earlier pieces.

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