NEW YORK, NY -- Prior to U.S. Commodore Matthew C. Perry’s treaty with the Japanese Empire in 1854, Japan had been a closed society, and Japanese arts and crafts were relatively unknown outside of Japan. Following this treaty, at the influential London Exposition of 1862 and the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876, European and American artisans and craftsmen became acquainted with the wonderful flat decorative images of Japanese woodblock prints and examples of mixed metal objects.
Mixing metals for decorative purposes was an entirely new concept for European and American silversmiths and metalworkers. The firms of Tiffany and Gorham were especially inspired and became the two greatest makers of this new mixed metal fashion in the Japanese taste. They incorporated decorative elements from Japanese woodblock prints, such as robed figures, dragons, birds, crabs, fish, insects, flowering branches, and other natural themes, creating a variety of different textures on the same object, and often leaving the hammered surface of the object deliberately “unfinished.”
In the 1870s and 1880s, makers intended hammered surfaces to reference the newly popular Japanese style. The idea that a hammered surface suggests the hand of the artist was not celebrated until the Arts and Crafts period, and by the early 1900s hammered surfaces became almost commonplace. Interestingly, silversmiths in previous centuries would have thought these pieces not quite complete.
The most prolific lines used silver or copper for the primary form and added silver, gold and copper ornaments. For a brief period, only in 1883, Gorham experimented with a line called Banko Iron ware, which used a rough textured iron body patinated in a deep red-brown to which were applied silver and or copper splatterings that appeared to be totally random. The pieces were further decorated with other forms, including dragons, figures and natural elements that were seen on other lines of mixed metalwork.
Few pieces of Banko Iron Ware appear in today’s marketplace due to the line’s limited production. A selection of pieces may be seen in the exhibition, Gorham Silver: Designing Brilliance 1859-1970, on view at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum through December 1, 2019, curated by Elizabeth Williams.
Featured in Doyle’s October 8 auction of American Paintings, Furniture & Decorative Arts is a Gorham Banko iron and sterling silver vase decorated with a fierce dragon, crabs and trails of sand. The upcoming sale offers collectors a rare opportunity to acquire an example of this work.
We are thankful to Elizabeth Williams for information provided to Doyle for cataloging purposes.
American Paintings, Furniture & Decorative Arts
Auction October 8, 2019
Exhibition Oct 4 - 6
Rare Gorham Banko Iron and Sterling Silver Vase
Height 9 1/4 inches.