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Gorham 'Japanese Work' Antique Sterling Silver and Enamel 'Sample' Vase, Providence, RI, 1897-98

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This vase is extremely rare and quite stunning. It is also a fascinating study of Gorham production, which we'll discuss later.

In the form of a Japanese bottle, the body is an exquisite shape of graceful lines with the front and back being slightly bulbous with wider bulbous sides which all taper inwards and upwards to the top of the tall neck. Five beautifully chased scenes of butterflies and foliage against a stippled background decorate the opening below a rolled edge.

Each side of the vase is decorated with stunning artistic scenery. One side has a pond scene with three bunches of iris rising from the water. The flower scenes vary in size giving the illusion of distance with the smaller ones in the background.

In the foreground is a beautiful fish swimming behind the foliage. The exotic scene also conveys movement with the fish and irregular chased lines of rippling water.

The fish and water are hand-chased, while the leaves and flowers are all applied. The enamel to the various iris is stunning. The workmanship is very fine and the translucent colors are vibrant incorporating violet, cream, yellow and green.

Featuring a large rooster, a hen and a small chick, the opposite side is also extraordinary.

Fine chasing is used to add simple elements like pebbled earth and a decorative flower. The line you see to the right of the rooster is a hill which goes around the corner into the pond.

Also depicted on this side is a magnificent blossoming chrysanthemum plant. Once again, chasing is used for the bamboo shoots and grass in the background. The chrysanthemum stems and blossoms are all applied. The detail is beautiful and the enameling is another fine example of exceptional skill. Here's an enlargement of the rooster showing the great detail and multi-colored enamel feathers:

Enamel is a very difficult process and controlling the colors while firing is extremely tricky. Various colors throughout the spectrum are incorporated into these lovely objects. As one can see, various colors are even blended together for greater artistic expression. Even rarer is the Japanese signature on the side of the vase, most likely by the artisan who decorated the body.

Interestingly, we have the original Gorham costing slip for this vase. According to the documentation, the costing was recorded on December 12, 1898. What is fascinating is that the vase bears the trident date mark of 1897.

According to an 1898 article in the New York Times '...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. So when an American manufacturer wishes Japanese designs made from his own silver he sends it to Japan'.(1) This accounts for the 1897 date mark on the silver and the December, 1898 date on the costing slip.

This rare set is marked underneath with Gorham's trademark along with the Sample Code '8727' and 'STERLING. Is is also engraved with a 'GPL' monogram. It measures 12.5 inches tall by 6.5 inches wide, weighs 27.60 troy ounces and is in excellent antique condition with very slight enamel loss to one feather on the rooster (visible in the photo) and one blade of grass.

  1. "Silver For American Tables" in The New York Times, 11 December 1898, p. 20.