Gorham is one of the oldest and best loved American manufacturers of sterling silver. Its long history stretches all the way from it's beginnings as a small silversmith's shop in Providence, Rhode Island in the early 1800's, to the present time. You can trace its history through the use of their 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 give the piece a little polishing to brighten up the hallmark. It will be easier to read. The earliest hallmarks, in the tradition of American silversmiths of the time, are simply the person's name. This is usually their First Initial and Last Name, or just their Last Name. If they worked with a partner, both last names are usually used.
Look for the earliest for the earliest hallmarks from 1831 - 1837. The mark from this period is 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. They commonly made spoons, jewelry and small items at this time.
Find for hallmarks from 1841 - 1850. This would be J Gorham & Son. As Jabez's son joined the family business, his name was added to the mark.
Identify hallmarks from 1850 - 1852. The name changed to Gorham & Thurber, as Gorham Thurber joined the company during those three years.
Recognize when the major design change occured. 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. They are; a lion, an anchor, and the capital letter "G". The lion was used in various poses through the last half of the 19th Century, and they overlap each other, date-wise. They are; the Lion Rampant (attacking) facing right - 1852-1865, Lion Passant (walking) facing left, just like English sterling - 1855-1860, 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 the Old English Script from 1863 to the present.
In England, these symbols mean; sterling (lion), anchor (town of Birmingham), and G (date mark). This was an attempt, by Gorham, to have its wares recognized as quality. The anchor stands for the port town of Providence, but the "G" stands for Gorham...not a date. The hallmarks stuck, with slight changes over the years, but these symbols have been used by Gorham ever since.
Learn to identify date marks used from 1868 to 1933. During this period, Gorham added a tiny symbol to its sterling silver wares. It changes according to the year. For instance, from 1868 to 1884 it was a letter of the alphabet, in capital. 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 parachuter (1933). For a complete list, visit the online databases in the resource section below. Gorham did not use these marks on their flatware.
Look for date marks on higher end holloware from 1940 on. After 1933, Gorham discontinued the use of date marks on all but it's higher quality pieces. They now use 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 1930's, Gorham made Martelé silver. This line of silver holloware is very special. It is made from fine silver, 950/1000 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 Gorham 3 symbols, with an added eagle over the anchor, and the words, "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 - 1929. He brought new 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 3 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 it's beauty and rarity.