H4109

Gorham Massive Presentation Case made for the John Roach Silver Service, Providence, RI, c. 1874

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This spectacular presentation box was created to house the famous silver service presented to John Roach which now resides in the collection of the New York Historical Society.

Beautifully constructed, the case consists of striking walnut and walnut veneers with stunning burled panels.

Inset into the top is a lovely silver plate plaque engraved with the family name 'ROACH'. Inset on the left and right sides are recessed silver plate handles with the silver evenly worn off.

The top of the case lifts upwards on three silver hinges and side supports to reveal a beautiful blue satin interior.

The front panels also open forward for presentation and easy access to contents. In order to give the scale of the box, it once housed a massive tea and coffee service consisting of 'a coffee urn, hot water kettle, after-dinner coffee pot, tea pot, sugar bowl, slop bowl, a large fruit dish and a salver. The salver is 22x30 inches in size...The salver alone weighs 300 ounces, and the other objects are equally massive. The several pieces are enclosed in an elegant walnut chest, lined with satin, in the construction of which great taste has been displayed'.(1)

Along with the chest comes an original, we believe by Gorham, photograph of the service.

According to The Daily Graphic: "The chest in which the service reposes is of itself a striking work of art. The material is of French black walnut, lined with quilted light blue satin. The handle, hinges, lock and lid-plate are of silver, and on the latter, with almost striking simplicity, is engraved the one word 'ROACH'. It is said that $8,000 was originally subscribed by the donors for this testimonial".(2)

The story of John Roach is quite interesting:

John Roach was born in Ireland in 1815 and at the age of 16, emigrated to the United States and started working in an ironworks company in New Jersey. After 20 years, Roach purchased a small New York company Etna Iron Works. During the Civil War, Roach transformed the Etna Works into a major manufacturer of marine engines...From 1871 until 1885, John Roach & Sons was easily the largest and most productive shipbuilding firm in the United States.(3)

On April 30, 1874, Roach received this presentation at a large dinner honoring him at Delmonico's. The New York Times noted: "The design, though rich, is of that classic and cultured style for which the Gorham Company have made themselves so famous....It is certainly a service worthy of being made an heirloom in any family."(4)

This impressive presentation case has inset lock mechanisms along the upper rim of the front doors. One is stamped 'GORHAM MFG. CO' and the second one 'No 1 BOND ST. N.Y.', the location of Gorham's first New York City store.

Roach's colleagues purchased the presentation from Gorham's first retail store in New York City. Originally a wholesale showroom, Gorham opened the Bond St. store to the public in 1873 to great acclaim. On December 16, 1873, The New York Times commended the company and store:

The progress of the art of silverware is one with which the Gorham Company have specially identified themselves. They neither sell jewels, nor gold ornaments, nor watches. Silver and silver-plated ware alone occupy their shelves, and the company now holds a position similar to that of Storrs [sic] & Mortimer in London....No such collection of solid silver or electro-plate has ever yet been seen in this country as is now exposed for sale in the store of the Gorham Silver Company.(5)

The service met with high acclaim and was displayed at the Gorham store for the public to view after the presentation.(6)

This impressive box measures 42 inches long by 25 inches wide by 23.5 inches high. It is in very good antique condition: it has been refinished with minor veneer restoration, the blocking underneath the original satin which held the silver service in place has been removed (and the satin possibly tightened to fit), the silver plated handles are worn. An original key for one of the locks is included.

Provenance: Apparently separated from the service when the service was gifted to the New York Historical Society in 1920. Owned by a Cape Cod Yacht club until purchased at auction by a private collector approximately 20 years ago.

Endnotes:

  1. 'The Roach Testimonial' in The Evening Post, New York, May 2, 1874, p. 1.
  2. 'The Roach Testimonial' in The Daily Graphic, New York, May 2, 1874, p. 469.
  3. 'John Roach' in Wikipedia see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Roach, last accessed 2/18/15.
  4. 'The John Roach Dinner' in The New York Times, May 1, 1874, p. 5.
  5. 'The Gorham Silver Company' in The New York Times, December 16, 1873, p. 8.
  6. 'The John Roach Dinner' in The New York Times, May 1, 1874, p. 5.
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