Sugar bowl and lid (part of a tea and coffee service)

Aesthetic period
1906
Gorham Manufacturing Company (active 1865–1961)


Object Place: United States

Dimensions

16.6 x 21.2 cm (6 9/16 x 8 3/8 in.)

Accession Number

69.1293

Medium or Technique

Silver

Not On View

Collections

Americas

Classifications

Silver hollowware

This piece is embellished with flowering vines, veined leaves, and budding flowers. The elliptical vessel was raised and shaped with ribbed vertical sections that frame the broader right and left face. The handles are seamed. The lid has an ornate seedpod finial.


One of the signature aspects of Martelé silver is a softly modulated finish that bears traces of the craftsman’s hammer. As the background for the undulating organic shapes of Art Nouveau ornament, the shimmering hammer marks add a misty appearance to these works, contributing to their ethereal quality. The delicacy of Martelé wares has been attributed to William Christmas Codman, Gorham’s chief designer from 1891 until the 1930s. A pronounced respect for individual design and handcraftsmanship was part of the growing concern for integrity of materials and workmanship that characterize the Arts and Crafts movement. In practice, however, several hands were involved with the creation of this set, each contributing their specialty to realize a magnificent whole. The hollowware pieces were raised by William Hughes Jr. in February 1906 and then chased by five other craftsmen. The waiter was made in August 1906 by F. O. Erichsen and chased by Otto Colmetz, who was responsible for decorating two of the vessels.
For economic as well as aesthetic reasons, several different alloys were used in the fashioning of Gorham’s Martelé silver. Gorham gradually moved from the standard .925 sterling alloy used in 1897 to a higher silver content of .9684 in 1905 to allow a more fluid shaping of the metal. In economic terms, the increase in malleability also meant a 10 – 12 percent savings in time spent on an individual object. Regrettably, the softer silver is more delicate and readily damaged; thus, works that survive with their fragile surfaces intact are all the more coveted. The complete service also included salt and pepper shakers.

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.

Markings

"Martelé / [lion passant] [anchor surmounted by a spread eagle] G / 9584 / H / WZ" struck on base and under foot. A skeleton-key date mark struck in various locations on base.

Provenance

According to family tradition, this set was purchased from Gorham by a New York district attorney as a gift to celebrated New York singer Lillian "Diamond Lil" Russell. It was subsequently acquired by Eskind, an antique dealer in Newton, Massachusetts, who sold it to Betty and Saul Palais about 1940.

Credit Line

In loving memory of Betty and Saul Palais