Gorham "Japanese Work" Antique Sterling Silver and Enamel 'Sample' Vase, Providence, RI, 1897

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In the form of a Japanese vase, this lovely work of art has a circular base with six splayed feet and enameled floral scenes. Large applied lotus flowers and leaves grow from the beautifully chased rippled water.

An oxidized, textured upper half of the body differentiates between the earth and sky, creating a stunning effect. Vibrant enamel is used to decorate the flowers, some leaves, and areas on the base and splayed neck.

Interestingly, we have the original Gorham costing slip for this vase. According to the documentation, this is one of the very rare pieces of Gorham's "Japanese Work" silver.

The "Japanese Work" pieces, all unique samples - or internally generated special orders, were formed in Providence by artisans at Gorham. Gorham then sent them to Japan, where Meiji artisans decorated them. They were then returned to Gorham, who sold them to their wealthy customers. They were priced comparably to Gorham's high-end Martelé line. However, Gorham made a little over 8,000 pieces of Martelé and only about 100 pieces of "Japanese Work" silver, so these are much rarer.

When Gorham introduced the pieces in 1898, The New York Times noted that "...designs from almost every country are produced here [America], except Japan. The Japanese have their own original ways of doing their silver, which is a combination of chasing and applied work, and shows the characteristics of the country." (1)

For an article we wrote in The Magazine Antiques about these unique "Japanese Work" pieces, see here.

Marked with two Japanese words on one side, the first translates to "lotus," and the second has several translations, the most appropriate being "beautiful" or "flourishing." So this is the Beautiful Lotus vase.

On the other side of the vase is the signature of the artisan, "Masa Tsune," a famous Meiji metalworker. His tsubas (sword guards) can be found in museum collections around the world, including here and here

This rare vase is marked underneath with Gorham's trademark along with the Sample Code "8882" and "STERLING" along with the trident date symbol for 1897. It measures 11.25 inches tall by 4.25 inches wide and weighs 20.05 troy ounces.

Condition: there is small amount of enamel restoration to two flowers and two leaves. A monogram was removed underneath, and the patina has been restored, similar to the original oxidation from archival photos, see below.


  1.     "Silver For American Tables" in The New York Times, 11 December 1898, p. 20.
                                         Gorham Archives image courtesy of the John Hay Library, Brown University.