Gorham is one of the oldest U.S. manufacturers of sterling silver. Its long history goes back to a small silversmith's shop in Providence, Rhode Island, in the early 1800s. You can trace its history through the use of the company's hallmarks on sterling silver. Knowing what the hallmarks mean can tell you if you have an old or rare piece of Gorham sterling silver.
Use a good magnifying glass to see small lettering, and polish your piece to brighten up the hallmark. The earliest hallmarks simply consist of the person's name. This is usually his first initial and last name, or just the last name. If the person worked with a partner, both last names are usually used.
Look for the earliest for the earliest hallmarks from 1831 to 1837. The mark from this period reads, "Gorham & Webster." This was a partnership between Jabez Gorham and Henry L. Webster. If you have an item with this mark, you have a very old and rare piece of sterling silver. The common commonly made spoons, jewelry and small items at this time.
Find for hallmarks from 1841 to1850. These would read, "J. Gorham & Son." As Jabez's son joined the family business, his name was added to the mark.
Identify hallmarks from 1850 to 1852. The name changed to "Gorham & Thurber," as Gorham Thurber joined the company during those three years.
Recognize when the major design change occurred. In 1852, the Gorham sterling silver mark changed to its current form, patterned after the way the English mark their silver. It does not carry the same meaning though. Instead of names, Gorham changed its mark to the use of three symbols: a lion, anchor and the capital "G." The lion was used in various poses through the last half of the 19th century. These hallmarks are the Lion Rampant (attacking) facing right, 1852 to 1865; Lion Passant (walking) facing left, just like English sterling, 1855 to 1860; and Lion Passant facing left (the final version), from 1860 to the present. The letter "G" also underwent various changes. It morphed from a block letter with a serif (the decorative little tails on the tips of letters) from 1852 to 1862 and then to the Old English Script (1863 to the present).
Learn to identify date marks used from 1868 to 1933. During this period, Gorham added a tiny symbol to its sterling silver wares. It changed according to the year. For instance, from 1868 to 1884, it was a capital letter of the alphabet. After that, the symbols are completely whimsical and random. They range from a boar's head (1885) to a rooster (1890) and even a tiny parachutist (1933). Gorham did not use these marks on its flatware.
Look for date marks on higher-end holloware from 1940 on. After 1933, Gorham discontinued the use of date marks on all but its higher-quality pieces. The company now uses a system of a plain cartouche, representing the decade, and a number in the cartouche, which represents the year in that decade. So a square with a "4" in it stands for 1944.
Identify the Martelé mark from the turn of the century. From 1896 through the 1930s, Gorham made Martelé silver. This line of silver holloware is made from fine silver, 950/1,000, and is all completely hand-worked. In fact, the hammer marks from the craftsman's labor is not buffed out, but is a part of the beauty of the piece. The Martelé mark has the usual three Gorham symbols, with an added eagle over the anchor, and the word "Martelé." These pieces are usually in the Art Nouveau style with beautiful flowing lines, lovely women or delicate flowers on them. They are rare and highly prized by collectors.
Recognize Erik Magnussen sterling. Gorham employed this Danish silversmith from 1925 to 1929. He brought modern designs to Gorham, and these pieces are strongly influenced by Art Deco geometry and stylized lines. The mark has an unusual "E" and an "M," as well as the word "Gorham," the usual three-symbol mark, as well as "Sterling" and often a pattern number. This line was a terrible flop. The American market did not accept it and then the Great Depression hit, killing it completely. Today, however, it is highly prized by collectors for its beauty and rarity.
Understand Gorham's use of English style hallmarks. The lion on Gorham silver does not always mean that the wares are sterling, as it does in England. All American sterling silver is marked "Sterling" and sometimes also has "925" or "925/1,000" in the mark, to indicate sterling silver. If you have an item with the Gorham three-symbol mark, and it doesn't say "Sterling," or "Martelé," it is silver-plated.