'Treasures in the Attic': Flatware set comes from powerhouse of American silver making

This sterling silver pattern is one of Gorham’s most popular.

DEAR HELAINE AND JOE: 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.

— Kindest regards, D. P. E.

Treasures in your Attic sig

DEAR D. P. E.: We are going to focus primarily on the Gorham flatware because it is the more interesting and the 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. He became famous for the so-called “Gorham chain.”

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 the use of 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 their Strasbourg pattern, which was indeed first made in 1897 and continues to be popular.

D. P. E. supplied a photograph of six pieces of Strasbourg pattern flatware and said he has 72 pieces in total, which may suggest he has 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. 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” is really saying.

Weighted candlesticks were made so they would not tip over easily during use and 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.

Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson have written a number of books on antiques. If you have an item you’d like to know more about, contact them at Joe Rosson, 2504 Seymour Ave., Knoxville, TN 37917 or at treasures@knology.net. If you’d like your question to be considered for the column, please include a high-resolution, in-focus photo of the subject.