Gorham Antique Sterling Silver Nautical Prize Cup, Providence, RI, 1893

Completed in October of 1893, this exquisite prize cup is a brilliant and captivating work of art. The body is an enormous shell formed with wave-like motion. A female figure sits atop the front, gazing into a mirror. This figure represents the Roman goddess Venus, often depicted with a mirror and cherubs. Two putti rest on the back of the shell, holding a sail along with a trident fork adorned with a burgee and laurel wreath. Two other putti sit upon the sides of the shell, which is decorated with swags of flora.

Magnificent Renaissance-inspired dolphins and a mermaid appear to propel the shell and its occupants on its journey. The movement is conveyed by the drape on the female figure above, the positions of the sail and flag, and the side cherubs hanging on with their left hands.

This important prize cup was obviously intended to be a yachting trophy. The castings and details are extraordinary, and the size was meant to impress. According to the costing slip at the Gorham Archives, this trophy had a net factory cost of $780.00, took 587 hours of labor to create the trophy and 14 hours to create the original base.

Condition: When purchased, Venus was missing her mirror, the cherubs were missing their trident, and sometime in its history, the base went missing. We were able to locate an original photograph in the Gorham Archives. A highly skilled silversmith created wax molds and castings for all the missing silver parts and hand-chased the plaques on the base.
We found the only known woodworking shop in the United States that can still turn wood in oval. They replicated the original, oval, pedestal stand (see picture below.) After having the stand fitted to the trophy and the ash wood base finished with a hand-rubbed varnish, the silver was mounted to the base and voila!!
Silversmith: Robert A. Butler
Woodworker: David W. Graf, Schwamb Mill

Provenance: Sotheby's, Important Americana, January 15, 1999, lot 50.
The Orange Blossom Collection.
Christie's, April 6, 2023, lot 100.

This stunning prize cup is marked with Gorham's trademark and 'STERLING/ 2085' along with the date mark for 1893. The trophy measures 17 inches long by 11 inches wide by 16 inches tall(21.25 inches high on base.) The base measures 11.25 inches long by just under 9.5 inches wide by 5.25 inches high. Aside from even wear to the original interior gilding and the aforementioned condition report, the trophy is in stunning condition. The trophy alone weighs 169.10 troy ounces.

Gorham Archives image courtesy of the John Hay Library, Brown University.