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Gorham 'Mythologique' Antique Sterling Silver Flatware Service, Providence, RI, c. 1900

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'Mythologique' is one of the most intriguing flatware patterns ever made. It is incredibly elaborate with exceptional details on both the fronts and backs of the handles. Each of the pieces in this line depicts an interpretive scene from classical mythology. This service has hardly been used and the extremely detailed pattern retains a stunning amount of its original features.  It was sold by the important firm of J. E. Caldwell in Philadelphia, PA.

This exceedingly rare service consists of 12 large table spoons, 12 dessert spoons, 12 dinner forks, 12 dessert or luncheon forks and 12 tea spoons. They have a lovely script monogram on the back 'JMS'.

The mythological scenes on the pieces are:

For the table spoons there is a scene of Vulcan presenting thunderbolts to Jupiter. Vulcan was the son of Jupiter and Juno; all three of whom are depicted on the spoons. 'Vulcan is the patron of all workers in metal, and presides over fire. 'He made... the thunderbolts for Jupiter, and arms for the gods and heroes'.(1) Here Vulcan is seen holding his forging hammer by his side while grasping lightning bolts holding them up for Jupiter and Juno. The tips of the lightning bolts are stars.

The dessert spoons depict Nessus carrying off Dejanira. Nessus was the Centaur who tried to steal Hurcules' wife, Dejanira, when they needed help crossing a river.(2) The scene on these spoons have the centaur carrying away Dejanira.

The dinner forks depict Charon ferrying souls to Hades. This stunning scene has a seated Charon holding a paddle and at his feet is Cerberus.(3) There are two figures in the background along for the ride with the male flanked with a winged figure and the female a bird.

The dessert forks depict the story of Chiron and Achilles. Chiron was a wise Centaur and teacher of the arts who taught mankind 'the use of plants and medicinal herbs, and he instructed, in all the polite arts, the greatest heroes of his age, such as Achilles'.(4) After he was fatally wounded, Jupiter placed Chiron 'among the constellations, under the name of Sagittarius'.(5)

The tea spoons are the story of Penelope recognizing Ulysses. Ulysses left for battle in the Trojan War shortly after his marriage to Penelope. Years passed and upon his return, Minerva changes him into an unrecognizable old beggar. Penelope, having been relentlessly hounded by suitors which she rejected, finally 'consents to submit the question of her choice to a trial of their skill. Twelve rings were arranged in a line, and he whose arrow was sent through the whole twelve, was to have the queen for his prize'. Ulysses, of course, completes the task and then shoots his remaining arrows at the other suitors. This scene on the spoons depicts Ulysses as an old beggar seated in front of a consoling Penelope.(6)

F. Antoine Heller designed this spectacular flatware. He worked as a die chaser - he hand finished the molds used in die stamping silver. Due to the technical difficulty and great detail of the work - and the great expense of making dies for stamping - this was traditionally the highest paying craft position in a silver (or metal) shop. Heller went on to design silver at Gorham and left to work for Tiffany, creating the Olympian pattern. After that he studied at L'Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, where Gorham lured him back to work in Providence, where he created some of the most exquisitely die stamped patterns ever made including: Old Masters, Versailles, Cluny, St. Cloud and Mythologique. (See Gorham Silver by Charles Carpenter and the Gorham Flatware 1888 Catalog Reprint.)

This exceptional service is marked with Gorham's trademark and 'STERLING'. The total weight is an impressive 131.50 troy ounces. As noted, the service is in extraordinary condition and comes in its original oak flatware case lined with green felt and an applied metal plaque from the famous retailer 'JE Caldwell/ & Co/ Philadelphia'. The exterior of the box shows minor scratching, some staining and the remnants of an old paper label.

Endnotes:

  1. Gorham Manufacturing Company, Mythologique - Artistic Spoon and Fork Patterns, In a Series of Twenty-four Designs of Mythological Subjects, (New York: Gorham Manufacturing Co. Silversmiths, 1896), p. 29.
  2. Ibid., p. 21.
  3. Ibid., p. 22.
  4. Ibid., p. 25.
  5. Ibid., p. 25.
  6. Ibid., p. 43.
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