Gorham Antique Mixed Metal Japanesque Dessert Knives with Japanese Handles, set of 11, Providence, RI, 18th & 19th century
These knives are exceptional examples of mixed metals dessert knives that Gorham produced starting about 1875.
According to Charles Carpenter in Gorham Silver (p. 100), "The Japanese prototypes for Gorham's Japanese knives were the small ko-gatama knives with removable push-on handles called kodzuka" (aka kozuka). This set uses very rare Edo period (1615-1868) handles that Gorham fashioned with sterling blades. Gorham's #5 dessert or fruit knives with later Meiji handles are much more common.
The quality, decoration, and materials of the handles are incredible. Mixed media of gold, copper, silver, shakudo, and shibuichi are applied on and inlaid into the various handles made of bronze and other metals. The scenes represent Japanese legends or auspicious scenes. In traditional Japanese style, one side of the handle is decorated in relief, while the other is flat.
Engraved on the backs of the handles are lovely Japanese-style 'HJF' monograms, and Japanese artisans sign four handles. (Interestingly, HJF is Henry Jewett Furber's monogram. However, there is no record of him using this style of initials.)
Four different shaped blades are used in this set, with each decorated on both sides with various bright-cut engraved designs of flora, dragonflies, and butterflies.
Gorham also used less expensive handles - Japanese Meiji period ones that are die stamped and gilded rather than cast, inlaid and applied. The Meiji style of cheaper kozuka handles, while wonderful, never match the level of sophistication exhibited by these earlier Edo period examples. While it is traditionally thought that Gorham imported these handles, they were most likely purchased from Japanese goods merchants, such as A. A. Vantine, in New York City.
Literature: For an excellent article on the subject, see William P. Hood, Jr., "Western dining implements with Japanese kozuka and kozuka style handles," in The Magazine Antiques, January 2004, pp. 142-151.
These stunning knives are marked on the blades with Gorham's trademark and "STERLING." Four are signed on the handles by Japanese artisans. They measure 7.75 inches long and are in excellent antique condition.
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