Martelé dressing table and stool
William C. Codman ( British, 1839 - 1921 )
Gorham Manufacturing Company ( American, 1831 )
Edward Straker ( British, 1843 - 1912 )
Robert Bain ( Scottish, 1866 - 1946 )
Joseph S. Aspin
At the 1900 Paris world’s fair, Gorham Manufacturing Company introduced a line of handwrought wares named Martelé, the French word for "hammered." The grandest piece in the line was this meticulously crafted dressing table and stool, designed by the company’s chief designer William C. Codman and executed by a team of craftsmen, including silversmith Joseph E. Straker and chaser Robert Bain.
The dressing table and stool draw on the Baroque tradition of silver furniture favored by European monarchs, such as King Louis XIV of England, as statements of wealth. In many cases, however, kings opted for economical pieces of wood covered with sheets of silver. Gorham spared no expense in the creation of the Martelé ensemble, composed of 1,253 troy ounces of solid silver of a purity (950/1000) that exceeded that of the time-honored British sterling standard (925/1000). Gorham craftsman raised and chased the silver by hand, a task that required over 2,300 hours of skilled labor.
Its design reflects a combination of stylistic influences, from traditional Colonial Revival forms such as the curved legs terminated by pad or claw-and-ball feet to the whiplash lines and floral motifs characteristic of Art Nouveau. The intricate decorative scheme includes Aurora, Roman goddess of the dawn, and an owl, symbols of morning and evening, the times of day when the table and stool would be used. For this achievement, Gorham received the Grand Prix, the fair’s highest award. Tycoon Thomas W. Lawson of Boston, Massachusetts, worth $50 million in 1901, purchased the Martelé dressing table and stool upon its return to the United States and installed it in his Dreamworld estate in Scituate, Massachusetts.
DMA unpublished material, Label copy
Charles L. Venable, Silver in America, 1840-1940: A Century of Splendor (Dallas, Texas: Dallas Museum of Art; New York, New York; Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1994), 349-350.
Watch a video about Gorham Manufacturing Company