Gorham Sterling Silver 'Polar' Ice Bowl and Tongs, Providence, RI, c. 1882
The most iconic of American ice bowls, this Gorham masterpiece is formed in the shape of naturalistic ice floes surmounted on each end by a realistic cast polar bear. This whimsical piece celebrates the 1867 purchase of the Alaska Territory from Russia and the visual metaphor of ice in the Polar Regions. It is extremely rare to find the ice bowl and ice tongs together.
Ice bowls are a wonderful symbol of American ingenuity.
It is easy to forget how important ice was in a world before the refrigerator. Unlike Western Europe, North America produced abundant supplies of clean ice. The clean rivers and lakes along with the cold winters allowed for bountiful ice 'harvesting' in the winter and early spring. Americans developed this resource and created markets for it by exploiting needs in tropical areas.
In the early 19th century, Frederic Tudor and his Wenham Lake Ice Company improved insulating techniques so his ice could be shipped afar to the West Indies and even Calcutta, India. Henry Thoreau mentions the 'harvesting' of ice from Walden Pond.(1) An appendix to the 1880 U. S. census notes that 8 to 10 million tons of ice were harvested annually in the United States.(2)
Wenham Lake Ice became popular in Europe because, unlike old world ice, it was clean enough to actually put in drinking water and other refreshments. Queen Victoria was so delighted with the clean ice in her drinks that the Wenham Lake Ice Company received a royal warrant!(3)
This very rare ice bowl and tongs are marked with Gorham's trademark and 'STERLING'. The bowl is also stamped with the '125' model number and the date mark for 1882. The tongs have the model number '63' marked on them. The bowl measures 10 ½ inched long by 7 inches high and weighs approximately 32 troy ounces. The tongs measure 12 ¼ inches long and weigh approximately 5 troy ounces. Both are in excellent antique condition.
Gavin Weightman, The Frozen-Water Trade: A True Story, (New York: Hyperion, 2003), pp. 169-70.