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Paul Lemieux

Posts: 1768
Registered: Apr 2000

iconnumber posted 09-24-2003 01:57 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Paul Lemieux     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have noticed an outbreak of these Gorham shell & spoon reproductions on eBay. I have also looked at a couple at shows.

In the past week alone, I spotted three identical repro sets on eBay, being listed as originals. I emailed all three sellers; two removed their listings, but one did not.

The recasts have very clumpy looking "sand", whereas Gorham circa late 1880s originals have fine silver granules. Also, the silver is thicker and heavier on the repros than on the Gorham originals.

All of the repros I have seen have had the word "STERLING" stamped somewhere on the underside of the shell. As this mark is crisp, clearly it was stamped after the casting was done, and not part of the original Gorham design.

On the recasts, the Gorham marks are always obscured and difficult to read because much detail was lost in the casting process. Gorham originals should always have crisp marks. Since they were placed inside of the shell foot, they are not in a place where wear is likely to occur. In general, the detail is poor compared to the originals.

A couple of times I have seen just the dish, or just the crab spoon reproduction. They can be spotted by their heft compared to their originals, and the poor quality of the casting. Sometimes one can detect casting bubbles in the silver, another dead giveaway.

If you spot one of these "sets" (originally the spoon and dish were not made to go together--the spoon is a coffee spoon while the dish is for almonds or olives I think) be sure to know the signs of a reproduction. The reproductions on eBay have made it up to about $300 a set--cheap for an original, outrageous for a repro.

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Scott Martin
Forum Master

Posts: 11377
Registered: Apr 93

iconnumber posted 09-24-2003 04:47 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Scott Martin     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I got a phone call today from one the silent visitors to the forums. They asked me to thank you because they were on the fence about just such a purchase. Your explanation has confirmed what their "gut" was telling them.
Thank you Paul

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Posts: 1069
Registered: Jun 99

iconnumber posted 09-24-2003 09:29 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for FredZ     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
My thanks to you as well Paul. This type of information is invaluable and a true service to the silver collecting community.

It would be nice to see an example of a real shell and one of a spoon. I have seen the granular texture on real Gorham items and they are very unlike the texture on these repros. Do you know if the original shells were cast, die-struck or formed and chased by hand?

Thanks again,

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Paul Lemieux

Posts: 1768
Registered: Apr 2000

iconnumber posted 09-25-2003 12:59 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Paul Lemieux     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The original Gorham dishes are a combination of casting, stamping, and sometimes hand-forming.

I do not own an example of this dish, but I can tell you how a similar dish, the #565 olive dish, was made. It is a shell dish of similar size, but with a different type of shell. The body is shaped primarily by stamping. It is made of relatively thin (compared to these recasts) silver. But it is not so thin that it looks cheesy.

The one part that is not shaped by stamping is the "hinge" of the shell, where silver actually curves up and over itself a little. This part is hand-formed because it would be impossible to acheive that shape by stamping alone. The hammer or maybe dapping punch marks are visible.

The shell feet are cast and applied. And the "sand" is made up of countless tiny silver granules, not large clumps as on the repros. These granules are applied, and not part of the stamping process.

The crab spoon is made up of four pieces of silver plus the sand in the bowl. The four pieces are the shell bowl, the wire handle, the "seaweed" wire wrapping, and the crab. These are put together separately by hand, and also, a texture is stamped onto the wire handle. Each spoon varies slightly in amount of sand, formation of the seaweed wire, etc.

[This message has been edited by Paul Lemieux (edited 09-25-2003).]

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Paul Lemieux

Posts: 1768
Registered: Apr 2000

iconnumber posted 09-25-2003 01:20 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Paul Lemieux     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I found a few pictures of my shell dish on my computer. They are not very good pictures. The first shows the dish--the curved part on the upper left side is the part that is hand formed. The second is a close up of some of the sand. The third shows the piece's marks--note that they are crisp and deeply struck.

Fred, I do have a question about the silversmithing techniques of these dishes. How do you suppose the tiny (about 1mm or less in diameter) granules were produced and put onto the dishes?

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Posts: 1069
Registered: Jun 99

iconnumber posted 09-25-2003 10:30 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for FredZ     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The granules are produced by coarsely filing silver and heating them with a large amount of powedered charcoal. As the melting temperature of the silver is reached the silver forms into spheres. This can also be accomplished on a small scale by melting filings or small clipings of silver on a charcoal block. If you tip the block as they are melting the silver forms spheres and roll off the block and into a pan of water.

To adhere the small spheres you can tin the surface of the base with solder, let it cool and then place the spheres and reheat. The spheres will be joined at the point of contact. It is possible that they may have used the technique of granulation to adhere the spheres to the base.

I can ellaborate on that technique if anyone is interested.


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Paul Lemieux

Posts: 1768
Registered: Apr 2000

iconnumber posted 09-25-2003 11:16 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Paul Lemieux     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Fred, thanks for the information. It is very interesting. I know enough about silversmithing to fix small things--such as broken ring shanks--but do not know about many decorative techniques.

If you don't mind, could you explain granulation as well? I often see this technique on Etruscan Revival jewelry.

Do you have any examples of your own work that exhibit these techniques?

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Posts: 1069
Registered: Jun 99

iconnumber posted 09-26-2003 11:13 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for FredZ     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote

Several techniques have been discovered and developed to create true granulation. Most seem to use a copper oxide, copper carbonte or some other form of copper compound to help form the bond between the base and the granules.

I will explain a rather simple technique taught to me by A jeweler in California. A microscopic layer of copper is deposited on the base silver layer. I use a solution of sodium bisulphate and water used by some silversmiths to clean (pickle) the silver after soldering. I dissolve copper in the solution by heating annealing a strip of copper and quenching it into the pickle. I do this several times to assure that there are suspended copper molecules floating in the pickle.

Sodium Bisulfate is a granular acid and must be handled with care.

By placing the silver plate and silver granules into this solution and touching the submerged plate with an iron poker, a galvanic action will flash an almost invisible layer of copper over the surface of the silver plate and the granules.

The plate and granules are then removed and dipped in water to remove any trace of the pickle.

An organic glue such as a muscilage or gum arabic may be used to adhere the granules to the plate in the pattern you wish. The glue must be very dilute and the granules can be applied carefully with a fine sable paint brush. Use a tissue to remove excess glue and allow to dry.

Now comes the magic. A reducing flame is used to raise the temperature of the base and the granules unil the fine copper layer combines with the surface silver to form a lower melting alloy (solder) and bonding the granules to the base.

The trick is knowing when the right temperature is reached. An experienced eye will see the surface of the metal flash as if it is ready to melt and then the flame must be removed immediately.

Voila! Granulation.


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Posts: 362
Registered: Feb 2008

iconnumber posted 01-22-2010 03:22 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for chase33     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
There is one up for auction that states it is a recast. I wonder if it might be one of the ones you saw when you first wrote this piece (nine+ years ago)? In any case, they are still floating around.

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Ulysses Dietz

Posts: 1265
Registered: May 99

iconnumber posted 01-28-2010 02:42 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Ulysses Dietz     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Here is the almond dish and spoon, which I purchased for Newark in 1989, in its original labeled silk presentation box. Retailed by Kirkpatrick in NYC, it was clearly a wedding gift that never got used, as it is in pristine condition.

It is chilling, but somehow logical, to think that people are electroforming or casting reproductions of these.

Here is the mark.

Clearly struck into the surface.

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Posts: 2132
Registered: Nov 2002

iconnumber posted 01-28-2010 03:41 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dale     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Ulysses says:

It is chilling, but somehow logical, to think that people are electroforming or casting reproductions of these.

The fact that this is going on suggests that there is a demand for items that the silver manufacturers are ignoring. Based on the reproducers I have known, they make silver based on what their customers want. For a long time it was items not made in the original pattern. Seems like IS Frontenac strawberry forks were among the first to come along. These were sold thru antique shows, frequently by established silver dealers.

Sometime in the 70's, there was an advance in technology that allowed very highly defined rubber moulds to be made from existing pieces. With this a wax piece was made and then cast. The people doing it generally were jewelry makers who had a side line of silver repair that had expanded into antique silverware. It is actually a fairly simple procedure which can be done in a garage or high school shop room. The technique is very well fitted to things for which there is very small demand.

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