Gorham Manufacturing Company

In 1831, Jabez Gorham (pictured) founded Gorham Manufacturing Company in Providence, Rhode Island with Henry L. Webster. Initially, the firm focused on making spoons from coin silver as well as combs, thimbles, jewelry, and other small items. An 1842 tariff passed by Congress prevented the importation of silver from abroad. While Jabez Gorham did not take full advantage of this, his son John Gorham, who took over in 1847, began to streamline operations and expand the range of offerings. Following an 1852 tour of Europe, John Gorham recruited Englishman George Wilkinson to train his designers and workers in the latest techniques.

Gorham Manufacturing Company eventually became the largest silver producer in the world. Starting with the Lincoln Administration, various Presidents commissioned metalwork by Gorham for use in the White House. After being granted a charter from the Rhode Island legislature in 1865, Gorham moved into a factory on Adelaide Avenue in Providence in 1895. That same year, noted designer William Christmas Codman created the famed Chantilly flatware service. Gorham soon added matching holloware to the Chantilly line. In addition to making silver, Gorham began casting sculptures in the 1880s. This included a silver likeness of Christopher Columbus for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, which was designed by French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi of Statue of Liberty fame.

Starting in 1884, Gorham maintained a retail presence in New York City, first in the Ladies' Mile shopping district and then on Fifth Avenue. In the early 20th century, Gorham acquired longtime rivals Kerr & Company of New Jersey and Whiting Manufacturing Company of Massachusetts. As the demand for silver decreased during the mid-20th century, Gorham was forced to sell in 1967 to Textron, a multi-industry conglomerate based in Providence. Textron in turn sold Gorham to Dansk International Designs in 1988 and Dansk sold to the Brown-Forman Corporation in 1991. Department 56 bought Gorham in 2005 as part of the Lenox holdings transaction, but the renamed company, Lenox Group, went bankrupt in 2009 and Clarion Capital Partners bought the entity, which now has three divisions: Lenox, Dansk, and Gorham.

Despite Gorham's recent succession of owners, it is still regarded as one of the finest American silver makers in history. To honor the company's important legacy, the Rhode Island School of Design Museum held a comprehensive exhibition, Gorham Silver: Designing Brilliance 1850-1970, from May 3 through December 1, 2019, which subsequently visited the Cincinnati Art Museum from March 13 through July 5, 2020. Examples of Gorham holloware, flatware, jewelry, decorative arts, and sculpture are today part of the permanent collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and other distinguished institutions.

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