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Gorham Coin Silver Early Ice Bowl, Providence, RI, 1860-67

Early and very rare, this Gorham ice bowl is the oldest Gorham one we have had the opportunity to sell.

Wonderful cast lion masks with loop rings form the handles with bold scrolling decoration rising above the rim. Beading borders the rim and is also used on the neck above the pedestal base decorated with lovely engine-turning. Branches with ivy leaves and hanging icicles form the borders of the cartouches and scenes on both sides. Repousséd and chased scenes of mountainous ice-coved Arctic scenery with trees are artistically rendered below a textured sky with traces of clouds.

Gorham originally made this style of ice bowl with only engine-turned decoration. The arctic chasing took about 20 hours of added work, costing an additional seven dollars. The final factory cost of the chased version was $79.00, for a retail price of about $100.00 - a fair sum in the 1860s.

Even before the United States purchased Alaska in 1868, there was a huge fascination with the Arctic. In 1856, an "enormously popular" two-volume set of books titled Arctic Exploration by Elisha Kent Kane recounted explorations and experiences there. "Kane's books were peddled door-to-door like encyclopedias... Their popularity undoubtedly helped to whet the American public's appetite for Arctic-themed decorative arts." (1)

Ice bowls are a wonderful symbol of American ingenuity.

It is easy to forget how important ice was in a world before the refrigerator. Unlike Western Europe, North America produced abundant supplies of potable ice. Clean rivers and lakes, along with cold winters, allowed for bountiful ice "harvesting" in winter and early spring. Americans developed this resource and created markets for it by exploiting needs in tropical areas.

In the early 19th century, Frederic Tudor and his Wenham Lake Ice Company improved insulating techniques to ship ice afar - to the West Indies and even Calcutta, India. Henry Thoreau mentions the "harvesting" of ice from Walden Pond. (2) An appendix to the 1880 U. S. census notes that 8 to 10 million tons of ice were harvested annually in the United States. (3)

Wenham Lake Ice became popular in Europe because it was clean enough to use in drinking water and other refreshments, unlike old world ice. Queen Victoria was so delighted with the clean ice in her drinks that the Wenham Lake Ice Company received a royal warrant! (4)

This very rare ice bowl is marked with Gorham's trademark, 'COIN,' and a partially obscured mark of New York City retailer Robert Rait. (Rait's shop was on the same Broadway block as Tiffany & Co. until the latter moved to Union Square in 1854.) The bowl is also stamped with the '50' model number. It measures 8.25 inches high by 7.875 inches wide, weighs 28.60 troy ounces, and is in excellent antique condition with light wear and scratches from use.

Gorham Arctic Ice Bowl Archival Image
Original archival image, Gorham Mfg. Co. Archives, John Hay Library, Brown University.



Endnotes:

  1. Robert McCracken Peck, "Icy embellishments: Arctic imagery and the decorative arts," in The Magazine Antiques, February 2007, pp. 72-79.
  2. Gavin Weightman, The Frozen-Water Trade: A True Story, (New York: Hyperion, 2003), pp. 169-70.
  3. Weightman, p. 231.
  4. Weightman, p. 184.