A stunning example of art nouveau sterling silver, this rare water pitcher is a unique special order piece from Gorham. The bold handle attaches to the body covered in leaf decorations at the terminals. Conveying movement and height are the twisting vertical lines along the lightly hammered, sparkling body. Emerging from these fluid lines are foliate stems with leaves and blossoming flowers adorning the midsection and area around the upper rim. A compacted execution of this design encapsulates the pedestal base. The design and surface are reminiscent of Gorham's famous Martelé line which epitomized art nouveau in silver.
The Louisiana Purchase Exposition, better known as the St. Louis World's Fair, covered 1200 acres of which most is known today as Forest Park. World's Fairs were the greatest opportunities afforded companies (who were invited) to show people from around the globe the latest styles and the highest level of craftsmanship and achievements their companies could produce. Gorham produced a Martelé coffee service with similar decoration for the Saint Louis World's Fair a few months before this water pitcher was made.
Detail of Gorham Louisiana Purchase Exposition Sterling Silver Water Pitcher, 1904
According to a report (see the report below) by Samuel Hough, an independent researcher working with the Gorham Archives, the FRG Pitcher was completed May 4, 1904.
To put this report into perspective, if we were to interpret this based on an eight-hour work day, it would have taken Gorham's finest craftsmen over 25 days to create this one water pitcher; an astounding effort resulting in this stunning water pitcher.
Foot detail of Gorham Louisiana Purchase Exposition Sterling Silver Water Pitcher, 1904
This rare pitcher is marked underneath with Gorham's trademark and 'STERLING' along with the sample code 'FRG' and the 'SL' designation for being made for the St. Louis exhibition. It measures 9.5 inches high, weighs 42.55 troy ounces and is in very good/ excellent antique condition.
Text of report for the FRG Pitcher by Samuel Hough, derived from Gorham’s Costing Records in the Gorham Archives:
According to the costing Slip (box 22), the FRG Pitcher was a sample, made to be displayed at the St. Louis Exposition and completed 4 May 1904.
The first step in making the piece was a plaster model made for the handle, fashioned by Axel Staf, who required a day and a half to complete it. Then a brass pattern was made from the model, a work of twenty-four and a half hours performed by a number 7. The cost of this extensive labor was not figured into the cost of the pitcher, but was part of the overhead each product was charged.
The pitcher contained 44 troy oz. of sterling silver valued at $30.80. Some of the silver was cast in Axel Staf’s patterns to provide the handle, this took two hours at a labor cost of $1. Other of the silver was turned for 35 minutes ($0.18).
The prepared silver then went to a silversmith in the experimental silversmith’s room PP, where the pitcher was fashioned in fifty hours ($22.50).
It was then chased by number 25, George Sauthof, whose 121 hours of craftwork- over two sixty-hour weeks- was charged at $72.60.
Born in Germany on 2 November 1852, Sauthof came to the U.S. in 1864 and was trained at Tiffany’s, where he worked until employed by Gorham on 19 May 1884. His obituary in Silver Tongue (3; 2, Dec. 1927, p. 5) says that “In the passing of Mr. George Sauthof we lose one of the greatest repousse artists in the craft....his exceptional ability as a silver chaser was soon recognized and he was entrusted to execute some of the finest masterpieces in silver...” Sauthof’s salary reflected the high regard in which he was held: by 1892, he earned $32.00 per week, the most of any of the chasers. By 1900, Robert Bain had surpassed Sauthof at $39.00 per week and only David Wilmot was paid equally. In 1905 he was paid $32.00 per week- only one other chaser made more. Sauthof chased some of the highest regarded Gorham silver, such as the three-handled Martele loving cup with enamelled flowers, made for the Paris Exposition and illustrated in Charles Carpenter (plate VIII).
Sauthof remained with Gorham until 23 July 1927 when, nearly 85, he suffered a stroke at the factory and died two weeks later.
The FRG Pitcher was bobbed for two and a quarter hours ($0.56) and oxidized & finished for an hour ($0.30).
Direct silver and labor costs were tallied at $127.94. To this were added 20% overhead, $25.59; 40% profit, $51.18; and 7.5% administration costs, $10.24, for a sum of $214.94. Here was added $8 for gilding for a total of $222.94. The net factory price was set at $240.