Southern California modernism engages colonial New England

from The Magazine ANTIQUES, July/August 2012 |

An advertisement placed by the Los Angeles department store Barker Brothers in the Los Angeles Times on November 13, 1929, records the earliest appearance of Porter Blanchard's Commonwealth pattern, the first American flatware pattern to embrace modernism in both form and ornament (Fig. 3). Nine months later Barker Brothers featured Commonwealth again, in an advertisement illustrating a fork, spoons in two sizes, and a butter spreader, accompanied by the announcement, "Porter Blanchard Saw a 17th Century Spoon-Result: ‘The Commonwealth' in hand-wrought silver" (Fig. 6). The ad went on to identify a spoon in the Essex Institute by the early Boston silversmith John Hull (misspelled as John Hall) as Blanchard's inspiration (Fig. 1). The advertisement closed with the declaration that the pattern- its name derived from Massachusetts' official designation as the Commonwealth of Massachusetts- was "Simple, pure of line, yet eminently modern as are so many things that trace their origin in the designs of Colonial America."



Fig. 2. Chop set in the Commonwealth pattern made by Porter Blanchard (1886-1973), probably Pacoima, California, c. 1936. Each marked "STERLING PORTER BLANCHARD" and "HANDMADE" on the back; and engraved "GRD" on handles for Gladys Rose Dimond, who married in 1936. Silver, length of spoon, 10 ½ inches. Private collection; photograph by the author.






Fig. 3. Barker Brothers advertisement in the Los Angeles Times, November 13, 1929, p. 13.




In devising his pattern, Blanchard modified the early spoon by extending the length of the bowl to harmonize with his forks, whose short tines departed from the functionally superfluous longer length of traditional fork tines. He also employed a slightly wider handle than the early spoon to provide a surer grip. He boldly reconfigured the traditional butter knife form with a wider blade, and he refined the ice cream fork form by omitting unessential tines (see Figs. 4, 5). While many Blanchard flatware patterns have a plain surface, Commonwealth had a subtle hammered finish, a texture that became more pronounced after World War II when Blanchard's flatware production was taken over by his son-in-law Lewis Wise.


Fig. 1. Spoon made by John Hull (1624-1683) and Robert Sanderson (1608 -1693), Boston, c. 1664. Marked "IH" inside bowl and "RS" on back of handle; engraved "B/WH" on handle end for William Browne (1639-1715 or 1716) of Salem, who married Hannah Corwin in 1664. Silver, length 6 ⅛ inches. Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts.

[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi

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