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Abstract: Corrects and expands standard information on Gorham marks published by Charles Carpenter. Explains marking system for production sterling hollowware, 1850-1898, and the two subsequent shifts of 1898 and 1930. Changes in special-order markings expands and corrects the published record. Includes information for gold, bronze, silver over glass, their New York shop, and flatware.

For anyone interested in either Gorham marks or Gorham history, Charles H. Carpenter's Gorham Silver, 1831-1981 (N. Y., Dodd, Mead, 1983; reprint San Francisco, 1997; copies available from The Owl at the Bridge) brings together a lot of useful information and includes an illustrated section on Gorham marks at pages 280-291.

To anyone more deeply involved with Gorham silver it is clear that Carpenter did not account for all the marks. This is an attempt to fill some of the gaps and explain the reasons for the marking systems. Gorham assigned production numbers to hollowware from the product's earliest days in the 1850s. This numbering system, continued until 1898, did not assign a discrete number to a design or implement. Nor can one tell the date of manufacture from a production number: the #1 Champagne Bottle Opener was first made in 1890. The approximately 150 objects assigned the number 5 represent a variety of designs, dates, and uses. Tea Sets and some other standard hollowware items such as pitchers were assigned numbers in a decimal sequence, so the earliest design of a tea set was assigned the number ten, the second twenty, and so forth. During the early years, from 1857 to about 1870, variations within those numbers were available to customers, so for example the #30 design tea set, first made in 1857 and a great success (called the 'Mary Todd Lincoln set' in Carpenter, p. 55, illustrated on p. 56-57), could be had in chased and engraved variants numbered 31, 32, 33, 34, and 35. Adoption for its products, on 1 May 1868, of the English sterling standard of .925% silver is probably the cause for addition of a date stamp: Gorham provided a certificate offering a money-back guarantee on the purity of its sterling ware. Pieces without a date stamp predate the guarantee, so someone trying to turn in an undated tea service would have been refused an exchange. By 1868 the Company had grown large enough and complex enough so that any earlier practice of carrying records in an individual's memory was impractical. Production records were centralized, with costing records and photographs keyed to the production number stamped on a piece. The numbering system for sterling hollowware (as well as the costing records in ledger books, and file photographs pasted into albums) remained the same until early 1898, at which time new procedures were introduced. In addition to the numbering system the letter 'A' was added as a prefix to indicate sterling production hollowware related to dining. The letters 'B' and 'C' became prefixes for sterling production hollowware for the dressing table (brushes, mirrors, etc.) or the desk or for clothing accessories. There must have been some confusion in the factory, and some carryover, as the 'A' prefix was for a time applied inappropriately, such as to Martelé pieces which were neither sterling (they had a higher silver content) nor production pieces (they were one of a kind). Nevertheless, some early Martelé numbered pieces also include the 'A' prefix. This system using the 'A' prefix was continued until about 1930, when a new system of costing was introduced. After that year, and certainly after 1932, letter prefixes were dropped and number-only production codes were reinstated. In 1934, as Carpenter's table (p. 285) explains, the date code was dropped but was resumed again in 1941 for the possible reason that, as the Company had a repair policy, without a date on a piece it was difficult to establish whether damage was the result of normal wear-- the customer thus bearing charges for the work-- or should be treated as under warranty and repaired at no cost. At first the only variant production code was that for electroplating. From the time that process was initiated in 1863 its wares had a zero prefix with the production number. Plated wares were also stamped with anchor only. The word 'electroplated' was rarely used, various circumlocutions such as 'silver soldered' being used to avoid the 'E'-word. After the Second World War, 'YC' was stamped on electroplate.

Gorham's intent was to manufacture multiple examples of its designs, yet from the beginning there were always customers who required unique objects. The Company accommodated this market and it would seem that such products were either assigned a regular production number or none at all. The early costing ledger of the 1850s and early 1860s for special orders does not provide any identifications.

It was not until the late 1870s that Gorham recognized special orders with a particular code, A1 through A100, then B1 through B100, etc. The costing book with these 'special order entries' includes 'C' and 'D' as well. I believe that there was an 'E' series, and perhaps an 'F,' but I have not found records for them. Beginning in 1888 the system for recording and coding 'one-of-a-kind' was revised. Pieces made to special order (called 'specials') were assigned a number within a rectangle. The sequence went to ten thousand and then the count was begun again, although not for long, as I shall explain. At the same time, pieces made for the Company's own use, as prototypes or for exhibitions or other promotional purposes, were called 'samples' and given a number sequence paralleling the specials but within an oval. (Carpenter, p. 240, got samples and specials switched, which caused me much difficulty when I was new at this and which still causes confusion in the wider world.) Most Martelé wares before 1900 were made as samples and bear numbers within ovals. After 1900, most were special orders and were marked at first with numbers within rectangles. As mentioned earlier, some of the early Martelé numbered pieces include the 'A' prefix until replaced by letter code. But, as noted above, for production sterling Gorham changed their system for specials and samples in early 1898. From March of that year both samples and specials were assigned two- or three-letter codes beginning with AA and continuing through ZZZ. Perhaps because a production code was assigned at the beginning of a project, and because some pieces required considerable time to complete, a large and unpredictable overlap occurs for several years within the two systems of numbers and letters. Production for samples and specials was so great that both went through several cycles of letters, so different pieces may bear identical letter codes. In an attempt to avoid confusion, the letters were at times arranged vertically or in a triangle (in these forms the upper letter is read first, thus 'S over C I'). These configurations may have helped someone, but as letters ultimately have to be alphabetized 'ABC' isn't that much different from 'A over B over C' or 'A over BC.' That particular folly was never changed, and continued into the twentieth century. One category which Mr. Carpenter did not treat is gold, to which Gorham assigned the prefix 'X.' The letter 'X' followed by a number indicates that the piece was a Company production item and, yes, between the years 1895 and 1915 they made quite a bit of production gold. 'X' followed by letters indicates a special order, and if the number of records is any indication most gold wares were made in response to special orders. Another category significant enough to justify its own sequence-- at least for a decade and a half-- was Gorham's silver and glass products. At first, glass had been included in the silver production series; then it was assigned the prefix 'S', early records for which are either lost or included in other files as I haven't found them. S1 seems to have been issued in 1893; the last 'S' item is S3302 of 24 February 1898. As part of the system revisions of that year, glasswares were categorized as 'D'; D1, a pitcher, is dated 5 March 1898. Gorham made a considerable amount of 'D' wares through 1907, and then the type dwindles to nothing. A new category, begun 10 June 1898, had the prefix 'U' for umbrella handles, canes and such. This category had its own costing book as well as distinctive prefix, but does not seem to have survived the panic of 1907 or its aftermath. A much more successful category was Gorham bronze casting. The code for foundry work was 'Q.' Bronzes for which Gorham owned rights-- either because the pieces were made by salaried employees or because rights had been purchased as royalties paid-- were assigned numbers, thus Q135. These were usually small objects (statuettes, bookends) sold in Gorham retail stores. When the Foundry's services were hired by a customer (usually the artist) and the casting was provided for that customer, the 'Q' prefix was followed by letters: QBZ.

Copper and brass were assigned prefixes 'V' and 'Y,' it seems interchangeably, while a lot of ecclesiastical work was done in brass.

The Ecclesiastical Department, a large unit not mentioned in Gorham Silver, did not have its own prefix; rather, a prefix would reflect the material used to make a piece, so that one design, a cross 'arranged to be hung', was sold as 1808 in its sterling version, O1808 in its silver-plated version, and B1808 in a bronze version. Although I didn't find a brass version there probably was a V1808. Gorham operated a shop in New York City from 1890 or so to 1920. Although the New York Shop was not a factory it produced fine work, jewelry, some silver deposit on glass, and smaller objects in small runs. New York Shop work is distinguished by placement of the Providence prefix letter after the number: thus a New York glass item would be 1210D; a New York mirror could be 3703B, etc. The shop's production records do not survive and I am not able to do research for pieces made there. I have recently seen several pieces, including one in glass and a sterling chatelaine, marked with a number followed by the letter 'M.' Although I have no idea of the significance at this time, I can say that the 'M' is not a date mark. As to flatware: From an early date, even before the Civil War, Gorham made flatware distinctive from the named patterns. These might be salad sets, bonbon scoops-- pieces complete in themselves. From about 1865 they were assigned numbers which do seem to be discrete: that is, if there are two numbers 101 they are related in design. During the 1890s, as die-cutting costs declined, a large quantity of numbered flatware was produced, including souvenir spoons. As part of the 1898 adjustment the numbered flatware series was re-examined and, it seems, many items dropped from inventory. The series was then given the prefix 'H,' with the first item dated 11 March 1898. Many of the early 'H' series are carryovers, so the ever-popular Harlequin sugar scissors, copied from an English design and first made by Gorham as #5 in 1876, re-appears as H5. One should not try to guess the date of the H series by the sequence of numbers. The H885 Chafing Dish Spoon & Fork are carryovers and are of 1898/1900 vintage. H series flatware continued to be made in the twentieth century but in a reduced number of designs after 1907.


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