Gorham's 'white gold' flatware

Figure 8 shows a Gorham ice cream slicer (no. 433) introduced in 1888 that recalls the form and decoration of late Georgian English fish knives/slices.12 Its long scimitar-shaped silver blade has an off-center panel of hand-piercing that is outstanding—one of the best examples we have ever seen on American flatware. The ivory handle is elliptical in cross section and appears externally to be held to the blade only by a tight undecorated ferrule. However, an X-ray reveals a nail-like tang extending into a central channel for half the length of the handle. The perfectly flat blade was designed to cut and serve brick or molded ice cream, whereas so-called ice cream knives, with some degree of dishing, were intended for serving bulk ice cream.

Gorham’s records substantiate a flurry of ivory-handled flatware production beginning in 1890 and involving a variety of piece types. These included, for example, the berry spoon (no. 505) shown on the right in Figure 2, alongside the berry spoon in Whiting’s Ivory. The two are clearly related in style, suggesting that one company copied the concept from the other, and, indeed, in the 1890s the two firms were fiercely competitive. (Gorham purchased Whiting in 1905 but the latter operated independently until 1924.13) However, it is impossible to determine for sure which was made first. Gorham introduced the number 505berry spoon in 1890; and the patent application for Ivory, designed by Charles Osborne (1847–1920), was filed on December 26 of that year, so it too may have been made as early as 1890.14

In 1890 Gorham also introduced six bonbon “scoops” (Gorham’s term, although the slightly dished pieces look more like bonbon spoons or almond shakers) numbered 510, 515, 520,525, 530, 535. Each had a small uniquely shaped gilt bowl entirely occupied by a different elaborate hand-pierced rococo design and a differently shaped carved ivory handle pinned to a tubular extension from the bowl (see Fig. 7).

In 1892 came two fish sets, numbers 606(Fig. 1) and 607(Fig. 10), each comprised of a matching knife and fork. Both are ornamented with extraordinary hand-piercing, and on both sets the fanciful ivory handles are carved in mirror image. On 606 the handlesare pinned to a conical extension of the functional ends formed by the fusion of a small second sheet of silver on the back (see Fig. 9). On 607the handles are pinned to a die-stamped ferrule that connects to a tubular stem and stepped boss, the latter soldered to the topside of the functional end (Fig. 10a) in a manner similar to the handle-blade junction on many British fish or cake trowels (as serving knives in trowel shapes are known).15 Also in 1892 Gorham produced a splendid berry spoon with an ivory handle (no. 615), its most unusual feature being the join between the handle and bowl (Figs. 11, 11a): the handle is pinned to a stem boss in the form of a stylized dolphin (a variation of the stylized fish bosses seen on some English fish trowels),16 and the boss is soldered to the underside of the bowl. We have not seen this type of dolphin stem boss on any other American flatware; nor have we seen any type of boss attached to the underside of any other flatware piece of American manufacture.

In 1892 too Gorham launched another series of all-ivory salad spoon and fork sets (nos. 674–679). The 679set is illustrated in Figure 13 (left). Like the number 12 salad setillustrated in Figure 4, each component is constructed in two pieces, but here they are pinned to a larger and fancier parcel-gilt ferrule. The carving of the mirror-image handles and the functional ends is also more ornate. Other sets in this series were of similar construction, but some had even more fancifully carved openwork handles. Our illustrated set was made in 1893, as indicated by its stamped date symbol for that year.17

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by Émile Jacques Ruhlmann (1879-1933), 1926. Macassar ebony, amaranth, and ivory. Metropolitan Museum of Art. By Cynthia Drayton

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