Gorham Silversmiths film (c. 1926)

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Hagley recently acquired and digitized a film produced for the Gorham Manufacturing Company of Providence, Rhode Island. Gorham, founded in 1831, was among the most prominent American manufacturers of sterling and silverplate and also operated a foundry for bronze sculptures. Gorham’s silver pieces can be found in major art museums worldwide, and their bronze casted sculptures stand in well-known public spaces such as New York's Central Park.

The company completed silverware commissions for First Ladies Mary Todd Lincoln and Julia Boggs Grant; George W. Bush chose Gorham for the flatware service used on Air Force One. They cast bronze sculptures for many notable designers, such as Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, Abastenia St. Leger Eberle, and Gutzon Borglum.  

The film from Hagley’s collection depicts operations at Gorham in the 1920s. It appears to be the earliest footage of Gorham on record and is likely one reel from a multi-reel film. It does not include a title or a precise date, but we have assigned it a tentative date of 1926.

While incomplete, the footage begins with silversmiths aggressively hammering silverplate into shape and master craftsmen completing the meticulous work of adding ornamentation to the finished pieces. The film then shows the predominantly female workforce in the company’s packaging operation, making custom enclosures for shipping their products. In a segment about the Sterling Silver Division, a title card states that the design demands the qualifications of a scholar, a craftsman, and an artist. That segment includes footage of artists making pencil sketches of designs. The film concludes that the company uses modern materials like plastics while holding fast to tradition. The last few senses of the film show a table set with Gorham silver products.

You can watch the film here:

Kevin J. Martin is the Chief Curator of Library Collections and the Mellon Curator of Audiovisual and Digital Collections at Hagley Museum and Library.