L252

Gorham Antique Sterling Silver 'Polar' Ice Bowl, Providence, RI, c. 1870


The most iconic of American ice bowls, this Gorham masterpiece is formed in the shape of naturalistic ice floes surmounted on each end by a realistic cast polar bear.This whimsical piece celebrates the 1867 purchase of the Alaska Territory from Russia and the visual metaphor of ice in the Polar Regions.

Ice bowls are a wonderful symbol of American ingenuity. This irregularly shaped iceberg displays wonderful expressive polar bears, chunks of ice and hanging icicles.

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

In the early 19th century, Henry Tudor and his Wenham Lake Ice Company improved insulating techniques so his ice could be shipped afar to the West Indies and even Calcutta, India. Henry Thoreau mentions the 'harvesting' of ice from Walden Pond.1 An appendix to the 1880 U. S. census notes that 8 to 10 million tons of ice were harvested annually in the United States.2

Wenham Lake Ice became popular in Europe because, unlike old world ice, it was clean enough to actually put in drinking water and other refreshments. Queen Victoria was so delighted with the clean ice in her drinks that the Wenham Lake Ice Company received a royal warrant!3

This very rare ice bowl is marked with Gorham's trademark and 'STERLING'. The bowl is also stamped with the '125' model number. The bowl measures 11 inches long by 6.75 inches high, weighs 31.80 troy ounces and is in excellent antique condition.

 

Endnotes:

  1. 1. Gavin Weightman, The Frozen-Water Trade: A True Story, (New York: Hyperion, 2003), pp. 169-70
  2. 2. Weightman, p. 231.
  3. 3. Weightman, p.184.
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