This magnificent and whimsical pitcher is very unusual and rare. The body is shaped like a tree trunk with an irregularly shaped surface of bark texture. Protruding from the tree is a mischievous character with large ears from which turtles hang like earrings. The details are wonderful, including his chipped and cracked teeth.
From the back grows a branch handle with leaves and moss. The area around the handle base is chased with deep grooves as if the bark is stretched and cracked. Once again, the details of the handle are remarkable. We do not know the inspiration for this pitcher although I would assume it relates to some folk tale.
Many of these exceptional pieces were made in limited (sometimes only one) quantities. This appears to be the first, and possibly the only, example of this pitcher made.
Here is an original archival photo:
Gorham Archives Image Courtesy of the John Hay Library, Brown University.
According to Gorham's records, it was chased by William H. Tomey, one of their finest chasers. One of Tomey's pieces was featured at the 1889 Paris Exposition - a fine damascened iron plate with gold and silver decoration, which he both designed and "wrought." (1) When completed, this pitcher had a factory cost of $125 or about a $150 retail price. At the time, this was about the same cost as a good riding horse, one of the most important things a person could own.
This exceptional work of art is marked underneath with Gorham's trademark and 'STERLING/ 1310' along with the date mark for 1885. It measures 7.5 inches across the handle and front by 9.25 inches tall, weighs an impressive 40.85 troy ounces and is in excellent antique condition with a tiny piece of branch missing from the handle.
Samuel J. Hough, "The Gorham American Shield & Damoscened Plate" in Silver Magazine, September/ October 1994, p. 12.
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