Gorham Silver Exhibit at RISD

Text by Lisa H. Speidel

At one time, Providence’s Gorham Silver was the largest silver manufactory in the world. The tiny company that could, founded in 1831, grew to have quite the storied portfolio—and list of patrons. Among many pieces that sparkled and shone, there was the tea service Mary Todd Lincoln purchased for the White House; the solid-silver bench and dressing table that graced the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris; and the company’s largest commission: the grand mid-1870s Furber collection, an 816-piece serving set made to accommodate a dinner party for twenty-four.

To commemorate Gorham’s illustrious past, the Rhode Island School of Design Museum has curated a comprehensive exhibit, Gorham Silver: Designing Brilliance 1850–1970, that chronicles the company’s dominance in the industry. The exhibit explores Gorham’s influence on manufacturing (at its height it had a thirty-five-acre facility that employed some 3,000 people), design (the company was known to follow—and influence—the latest trends), and marketing (it was the first to photograph its products for promotional purposes), as well as how the firm helped shape societal and cultural shifts.

The exhibit, which showcases some 600 stunning silver and mixed-metal pieces and is curated by Elizabeth A. Williams, was an impressive undertaking. Once the selections were finalized, it took a team of ninety-five trained volunteers three years to polish the wares to their original splendor—the finishing touch on an exhibit that beautifully reflects Gorham’s proud history.

On view through December 1, risdmuseum.org

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