In 1831, Jabez Gorham, in partnership with Henry Webster, founded the silver company that bears his name in his native Providence, Rhode Island. Originally a manufacturer of coin-silver flatware, Gorham soon gained acclaim, selected by Mary Todd Lincoln for the White House in 1859. Beginning in 1863, Gorham became a powerhouse in plated silver, and it left coin silver behind for sterling silver in 1868, producing everything from flatware such as knives, forks, and spoons to hollowware pieces ranging from coffee pots to serving bowls.
The most important designer for Gorham in the late 19th century was the English-trained William J. Codman, who joined the firm in 1891. Codman helped develop the Martelé line, which was made of an even softer silver than sterling (.950 fine instead of .925), allowing Gorham silversmiths to hammer it into flowing, intricate Art Nouveau shapes (“marteler” is the French verb for “to hammer”). Gorham even created signature show pieces in the Martelé style, most famously a silver dressing table and cushioned stool, which beat Tiffany in the silver furniture category at the 1900 Paris World Fair.
Gorham flatware patterns include the Rococo-style Strasbourg, first produced in 1897, the floral-accented Buttercup (1899), King Edward (1936), and Chantilly, which was patented in 1895 and remains one of the most popular flatware patterns in the world.
Dating a piece of Gorham silver is a question of decoding the hallmarks on the back or bottom of each piece. While hallmarks for its first few years were not consistent, the triad of a lion, anchor, and “G” were used from 1848 on. From 1848 until around 1860, the lion faced left, but subsequent lions faced right. Beginning in 1868, the year Gorham embraced the sterling standard, marks for each year were also added. For example, pieces from 1868 through 1884 were marked with capital letters. Icons were used from 1885 (a wolf head) to 1933 (a parachute). Then, after a six-year gap, decades were identified by a polygon (four sides for the 1940s, five sides for the ’50s, etc.), with a numeral for the year set inside.