F52

Gorham Martelé .9584 Silver Centerpiece Bowl or 'Fern Dish', Providence, RI, 1912


Of circular form with an undulating everted rim, this wonderful Martelé centerpiece features striking naturalistic organic floral and foliate chasing of poppies. Gorham's Martelé line of silver was the finest expression of art nouveau in American silver. Each piece was individually designed and crafted by hand; no machine was used in any part of the creation and each piece is unique. During the period that Gorham produced Martelé, only 24 'fern dishes' were made(1) and each was different.

According to Gorham's costing records, this bowl took 36 hours to form and was raised by Alexander MacBeth.(2) The floral decoration took 90 hours and was chased by David Wilmot(3)' one of Gorham's very finest chasers. (In fact, only one chaser was better paid than Wilmot.(4) The fact that Gorham used Wilmot to chase this bowl indicates the importance Gorham placed on the piece.

Commonly referred to as centerpiece bowls today, these were called 'fern dishes' at the turn of the century. Clearly they were used with ferns, a popular plant at the time. These bowls could be ordered from Gorham with and without central silver plated mesh liners for floral arranging and the Gorham records indicate this bowl originally had a liner.(5) We are unaware of any Martelé fern bowl that retains its original wire mesh liner today. (In fact this is true for most fern dishes, Oasis has obviated the need for wire mesh.)

This wonderful bowl measures 15.375 inches in diameter, weighs a hefty 63 troy ounces and has never been monogrammed. It is marked underneath with Gorham's Martelé eagle trademark, '.9584' (the silver standard which is higher than sterling), 'Z/PZ' (Gorham's unique object code). It is in excellent, crisp condition (a lot of Martelé is quite worn), possibly retaining some of the original factory oxidation.

Endnotes:

  1. Larry J. Pristo, Martelé: Gorham's Art Nouveau Silver, (2002; Phoenix: Phoenix Publishing Group), p. 141.
  2. See Pristo, p. 451.
  3. See Pristo, p. 451
  4. Samuel J. Hough 'The House of Lords: The Chasers of Martelé Silver' in John Webster Keefe and Samuel Hough, Magnificent Marvelous Martelé American Art Nouveau Silver: The Jolie and Robert Shelton Collection, (2001; New Orleans: New Orleans Museum of Art), p. 22.
  5. See Pristo, p. 451.
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