Q: We are sending you photographs of our family Gorham sterling silver flatware — 72 pieces, pat. 1897. We also have a pair of Towle 7-inch-tall candlesticks, No. 131. They are “filled reinforced.” Please let me know the value of both and any other information you might have.
A: We are going to focus primarily on the Gorham flatware because it is more interesting and more monetarily valuable.
Jabez Gorham was born in Providence, R.I., in 1792 and became an apprentice at age 14 to jeweler and silversmith Nehemiah Dodge. When Gorham finished his apprenticeship at age 21, he went into business in Providence with several partners, making small items mainly from gold.
Gorham and Henry L. Webster founded Gorham & Webster in 1831 to make small pieces of coin silver, specifically coin silver spoons. Various partnerships followed, and in 1841, Gorham’s son joined the firm and introduced machinery in the silver manufacturing process.
Gorham is still in business in Providence and is the commercial powerhouse of American silver making. The flatware in today’s question is in the company’s Strasbourg pattern, which was indeed first made in 1897 and continues to be popular.
You said you have 72 pieces in total, which may suggest you have a service for 12. But no serving pieces were shown in the photographs. This is a bit unusual because most owners of sterling silver flatware sets want such things as tablespoons, cold meat forks, casserole spoons, gravy ladles and the like to complete their set and make it more useful.
The pieces do not appear to be monogrammed, and that is a plus as far as value goes. For retail, the 72-piece flatware set should probably be valued in the $3,000 to $4,000 range — if it is indeed without serving pieces — but for fair market value, that price drops significantly to the items’ worth as silver metal, and that is probably in the $1,000 to $1,500 range.
As for the Towle 7-inch-tall candlesticks, they are so tarnished it is hard to tell much about them. They appear to be in a sort of Georgian-inspired pattern, but they have one huge thing going against them: Their weight is largely from cement (or some similar heavy substance) placed in the candlestick’s base, which is what the phrase “filled reinforced” really means.
Weighted candlesticks were made so they would not tip over easily so as to prevent the lit candles from setting the tablecloth on fire. But as practical as they are, they are more “cement” than silver, which keeps their price down drastically. This set is probably mid-20th century and would retail in the $45 to $65 range.
Q: My 95-year-old grandmother recently passed away, and we are beginning to go through her belongings and could use your knowledge. Among a house full of items is this secretary hutch/desk that is 70 by 13 by 38 inches. Are you able to help us?
A: The secretary hutch/desk is an antique and has a higher value. Some people call these “side-by-sides”; others call them “Larkin desks.” The latter designation is due to John D. Larkin, who founded the Larkin Soap Co. in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1875.
Larkin was aided by his first salesman and brother-in-law, Elbert Hubbard, future author of the essay “A Message to Garcia” and one of the founders of the American Arts and Crafts movement. It was Hubbard’s idea to include a “premium” with Larkin’s soap.
At first these giveaways were just cards with the company logo, but these soon morphed into colorful pictures that could be traded among housewives. The idea grew until a free handkerchief came with Pure White soap and a free bath towel with Ocean Bath soap. Soon large wholesale orders came with piano lamps, Morris chairs or oak dining room chairs.
The business was so successful that Larkin fired all his salesmen and intermediaries and went into mail order. The company issued a catalog (destined to be second only to the Sears catalog) with available premiums. Business was so good that Larkin had to set up a furniture manufacturing factory in Buffalo to assemble parts cut in Tennessee. Buffalo Pottery was established to make pottery. Glass, silver-plated wares and men’s clothing premiums were purchased from various suppliers.
Side-by-side desks were very popular Larkin items, but there is no way to be sure this example was made by Larkin unless there is an attached label because so many other furniture companies made similar pieces. Still, side-by-side units with desk, bookcase and mirror are referred to as Larkin regardless of whether the soap company actually made them.
This unit was probably made in the 1900-1910 time frame and is still a very useful piece of household equipment. But its popularity has greatly declined with collectors over the past decade or so. In 2005, a nice golden oak side-by-side desk/bookcase unit such as this one would have sold at auction for as much as $800.
Now similar units are selling at auction in the $175 to $300 range, which we believe is too low and may rise again in the near future.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson have written a number of books on antiques. Do you have an item you’d like to know more about? Contact them at Joe Rosson, 2504 Seymour Ave., Knoxville, TN 37917, or e-mail them at treasuresknology.net. If you’d like your question to be considered for their column, please include a high-resolution photo of the subject, which must be in focus, with your inquiry.