Probably by Vincent Laforme and Brother (active 1850–1854), Vincent LaForme (American, born in Germany, 1823–1893), Francis LaForme (American, born in Germany, 1827–1895), Retailed by J. C. Farnsworth (active about 1852)
Object Place: Boston, Massachusetts, United States
33.5 x 24 x 16.5 cm (13 3/16 x 9 7/16 x 6 1/2 in.)
Medium or Technique
Forkner and Gill Family Gallery (Gallery 238)
The raised body and seamed neck of this baluster-shaped pitcher are decorated with trailing repousséd and chased flowers and leaves. A cast female head wearing a gladiator’s helmet decorates the inset spout, under which C scrolls frame a reserve for the inscription. The pitcher sits on a domed foot circled with chased flowers and leaves worked in repoussé. A scrolled handle with acanthus thumbpiece rises from the rim and joins the body at the shoulder. The neck rim is bent inward on the side, to the right of the handle, and the body is dimpled on each side.
Substantial in weight and rich in decoration, this classically shaped pitcher was deemed a worthy gift to be presented to James J. Walworth (1808 – 1896) by 126 of his employees about ten years after the founding of the Walworth firm, a pioneer in the central heating business. Heavy-gauge silver allowed for the deep rich-looking repousséd and chased Rococo-style decoration, and the many hours of hand labor to raise and decorate the vessel would have accounted for the major part of its undoubtedly high cost.
In 1841, about the same time the Walworth firm was founded, apprentice Vincent Laforme entered a belt buckle and a gilded watch case in the triannual Massachusetts Charitable Mechanics Association Exhibition. The buckle was judged “neatly made,” though the watch case was deemed only “fair.” Laforme probably apprenticed with his father, German-trained silversmith Anthony Laforme (d. 1846), who had arrived in Boston in the mid-1830s. In 1841 Anthony was listed in the Boston directory as a silversmith at 5 Water Street, next to the city’s best retail shops on Washington Street. In 1844, at age twenty-one, Anthony’s son Vincent was listed in his own shop, upstairs from his father at 5 Water Street.
Known as “Vincent Laforme & Brother” from 1850 to 1854, when his brother Francis became partner, the small firm employed five workers and used only manually operated equipment. The repousséd and chased flowers on another pitcher marked “Vincent Laforme & Brother” and dated 1851 strongly resemble those on this 1852 example. The quality and place manufacturing marks are identical on both as well. The attribution is further supported simply by the physical proximity of the silversmith and the pitcher’s recipient. The Walworth firm began in the early 1840s on Water Street, one block from the Laforme shop, and remained on nearby Devonshire Street until 1869. The retailer of the pitcher, J. C. Farnsworth, was located at 67 Washington Street, near both the Laforme and Walworth firms.
After only a few years, the Laforme brothers’ business arrangement changed, and in the Boston directory they were listed separately at 11/2 Water Street as “F. J. Laforme & Co.” and “V. Laforme.” Although it was claimed in an 1856 publication that Francis employed twenty workers and used steam-
powered machinery in his firm, he gave up his silversmithing business that same year. For a short time, Vincent tried his hand in farming out West, but within a year he returned to Boston, where he remained in the silversmithing business at various addresses on Water Street until his death in 1893. Vincent Laforme adopted an elegant English Gothic “L,” along with a stamped spread-winged eagle gripping shield and arrows, as his manufacturing marks (see cat. no. 223).
During the third quarter of the nineteenth century, the Laformes chose to operate small, independent shops similar to those of the eighteenth century, even as large steam-powered manufacturies began to dominate the field. Conservative in his private as well as his professional life, Vincent joined the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia in 1848 and the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company in 1858, remaining a member until his death. After their marriage in 1845, Vincent and Sarah Laforme settled in South Boston and became prominent and well-known residents. The Laformes wholesaled their wares to Boston’s most prestigious jewelry houses, including Lincoln & Foss; Jones, Ball & Co.; Samuel T. Crosby; and Bigelow Brothers & Kennard. Gilding and repairs were always part of the shop’s work, but gilding became Vincent’s specialty during the last years of his career. During these years, R. J. Dunn & |Co. reported financial difficulties for the shop. When Sarah Laforme died a few months before her husband, her will disclosed that all the family’s property was in her name and heavily mortgaged. None of the Laforme children entered the silversmithing profession of their grandfather, father, and uncle, though one son managed the business (keeping his regular job) until it was purchased in 1909 by Hallet & Smith, gilders and platers.
This text has been adapted from “Silver of the Americas, 1600-2000,” edited by Jeannine Falino and Gerald W.R. Ward, published in 2008 by the MFA. Complete references can be found in that publication.
Engraved within a cartouche below the spout, in a combination of script and gothic-style lettering: "TO / James J. Walworth, / A Tribute of Respect / from 126 Persons / formerly employed by / Walworth & Nason, / -in- / Boston and Malden / April. / 1852"
Stamped on base "J. C. FARNSWORTH. / BOSTON." incuse and "Pure Silver Coin" in italics within a rectangle struck on bottom. An 11-digit identification number in a modern hand is also scratched into the base.
Made for James J. Walworth, the pitcher descended in the Walworth/Williams family to James R. Walworth and in 1952 to his nephew Walworth B. Williams of Winchester, Massachusetts. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Walworth B. Williams
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Walworth B. Williams