Gorham Massive Silver Overlay on Albert R. Valentien decorated Rookwood Vase, Providence, RI, and Cincinnati, OH, 1892 & 1893, Designed and Executed for the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893

This exceptional and unique Rookwood vase was decorated by Albert R. Valentien, with flowing wisteria flowers, vines and foliage. Measuring 18.5 inches tall, Rookwood rarely made pieces this tall and typically they were meant for special purposes, including exhibitions. Valentien, possibly Rookwood's most accomplished under-glaze painter, was one of the few Rookwood artists allowed to work on pieces this important. The shape of the vase was designed by one of their other most famous artists, Kataro Shirayamadani (1).

In Providence, Gorham added some of the finest overlay, then called 'deposit work', that we have ever seen. Scrolls and scrolling flowers flow across large sections of the vase complementing the fluid movement of the wisteria.

Wonderful song birds are depicted in the silver, in one scene passing food and in another drinking from a pond supplied by a waterfall. The hand engraving on the silver deposit overlay is extraordinary.

The presence of this near monumental vase is hard to convey online. Beautifully designed and decorated silver contrasts with the dark glaze while the silver decoration complements Valentien's large painted floral decoration on the vase.

Gorham's display at the Columbian Exposition was highly important and extremely successful; it represented Gorham's emergence as America's great silversmithing firm. At the fair they won 47 awards (the largest number of any single exhibit), 42 of those for silver, while Tiffany & Co. only won 18 for silver.(2) For details about the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition and Gorham's extraordinary display, see the description of a previous piece we had.

Gorham won an award for 'silver deposit on glass and American pottery'(3), meaning this vase and other works like it. Gorham introduced this line of silver on Rookwood about 1892(4) and continued to make pieces in smaller commercial sizes for another 15 years or so.(5) Both Gorham and Rookwood saved their very best pieces for the fair where Rookwood also won awards for their pottery (without silver overlay).

Gorham's pavilion at the fair was in the center of the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building next to Tiffany. In the fourth window can be seen examples of Rookwood pottery with silver deposit overlay. Gorham Company Archives, John Hay Library, Brown University.

The stunning contrast of dark pottery and bright silver was popular during this period. Many silver pieces from Gorham's shop at the time were oxidized to enhance the contrast between dark and light. (Look at plate 163 on page 169 of Carpenter's Gorham Silver to see what an oxidized trophy from c. 1890 would have looked like when it left the shop.) Here, Gorham has created similar contrast in a new medium.

One of the first places women found employment outside of the home was in artistic positions. Gorham employed women to 'paint' the silver deposit pieces, including this vase, to create the design in the silver. (Once again see Carpenter, Gorham Silver, plate 231, page 216.) Further, women founded Rookwood pottery about 1880. Women helped create this masterpiece, both in Cincinnati and Providence.

Art historian and lecturer at the 'Wheaton Seminary', Julia Osgood, wished to 'call attention to the broad field now open to American craftsmen of both sexes.' and then wrote of Gorham's display, 'A whole case is devoted to Rookwood pottery over-laid with silver arabesques, so cut out and deposited as to leave uncovered the finest coloring and decoration of the pottery.' She also noted the purchase of a fine piece by the German Royal Museum in Berlin.(6)

The technology of depositing silver by electricity was one of the new technologies of the 19th century. During the second half of the 19th century, both Gorham and Tiffany experimented with new applications for electroplating, electroforming and (electro) depositing of silver.

George F. Kunz, Tiffany & Co.'s famous gemologist, noted, '...[Gorham's] treatment here of Rookwood pottery by enveloping it with silver and afterwards, by cutting, making a rich combination between the exposed surface of the pottery and the metal, is a novel and interesting achievement.'(7)

The Jeweler's Circular also praised these pieces at the World's Fair, 'The method of decorating this justly famous faience [Rookwood] with electro-deposited silver was introduced by the Gorham Mfg. Co. during the past year and has been accorded by the public the praise which it richly merits. The delicate framework of the silver gracefully entwines the piece in a manner or style of design admirably adapted to the original decoration of the faience, whereby the latter is never allowed to be obscured...'(8)

Gorham's novel exhibition of silver deposit overlay on American Rookwood pottery not only won praise domestically, Commissioner-General Camille Krantz of the French Government enthused in his report of the fair, 'They envelop a piece of Rookwood ware with a metallic tracery, the harmonious tone and the simple forms of this ware lending themselves particularly well to this style of decoration.'9 After the fair, the French sent a delegation of 39 artisans to Providence where they 'examined with much interest' the Rookwood silver deposit production.(10)

This exceptional vase measures 18.5 inches high and approximately 7 inches in diameter.

The vase is marked by Rookwood in the pottery with their mark and date cypher for 1892. It is stamped with the model number 589 and the 'X' size suffix indicating it is an exposition or other special purpose piece. The stamped 'W' is for white bodied pottery. It is inscribed by hand, A.R.V./L, the signature of artist Albert R. Valentien, the 'L' indicating he wanted a light glaze over his underglaze painting.

The silver is stamped twice 'GORHAM MFG. CO.' and engraved 'R1005', their costing code for the piece. It is in very good antique condition with light crazing (and largely unnoticeable staining) to the pottery and very minor silver loss to the deposit work.

Exhibition: World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893


  1. Herbert Peck, The Second Book of Rookwood Pottery, (Tucson: Herbert Peck, 1985), p. 76. 
  2. World's Columbian Exposition, List of awards, as copied for Mrs. Virginia C. Meredith, Chairman, Committee on Awards, Board of Lady Managers, from the official records in the office Hon. John Boyd Thacher, Chairman, Executive Committee on Awards. Chicago History Museum online at: chsmedia.org/media/fa/fa/LIB/WCE_AwardsList_Domestic.htm (last accessed 11 October 2016). See also a Gorham ad in the Jewelers' Circular (Feb. 7, 1894 p. 3), Gorham won 47 awards, 42 for silver, others for brass, bronze and hard wood chests.
  3. Ibid.
  4. "A Glimpse of the Gorham Mfg. Co. Exhibit. Part IV." in The Jewelers' Circular and Horological Review, (New York: The Jewelers Circular Pub. Co., Vol. XXVI, No. 16), 17 May 1893, p. 34. 
  5. Based on research at the Gorham Archives at Brown University.
  6. Julia Osgood, The Silversmiths' Work in the Liberal Arts Building Columbian Exposition A.D. 1893, (Providence: Gorham Mfg. Co., 1894), p. 13.
  7. George Frederick Kunz, "Notes on Industrial Art in the Manufactures Building" in The Cosmopolitan, (New York: The Cosmopolitan Magazine, Vol. XV, No 5), p. 554. 
  8. "A Glimpse of the Gorham Mfg. Co. Exhibit. Part IV." in The Jewelers' Circular and Horological Review, (New York: The Jewelers Circular Pub. Co., Vol. XXVI, No. 16), 17 May 1893, p. 34.
  9. Camille Kranz, International Exposition of Chicago 1893: Report published under the direction of M. Camille Kranz, Commissioner of the French Government - Committee 24. Jewelry, Gold and Silver Ware, (Paris: National Press, 1894), p. 10.
  10. "The French Delegation Inculcate American Ideas on Jewelry" in The Jewelers' Circular and Horological Review, (New York: The Jewelers Circular Pub. Co., Vol. XXVII, No. 10), 11 October 1893, p. 41.
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