Question: When we purchased our home several years ago, the owner, an elderly widower, gave me some of his old-fashioned sterling silver table items as a housewarming gift. Since I rarely use large silver pieces when entertaining, they were forgotten until recently, when a neighbor who helped me prepare for a party saw a two-piece item and insisted it may be valuable. She identified it as a Gorham “Martele” pitcher and tray set and suggested I write to you for information about its maker, purpose, possible age and value. — G.C., Strathmere
Answer: The item described appears to be a two-piece sterling silver “Ewer and Plateau” set, part of the popular line of Martele art silver introduced by the Gorham Manufacturing Company of Providence, Rhode Island, during the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Identified by its fine, swirling repousse decoration designs, your hand-hammered pitcher with matching under plate is one of the many bowls, tankards, vases, candlesticks, inkwells and beverage sets produced at Gorham’s plant.
Founded by Jobez Gorham, the Gorham Corporation initially made jewelry and silver spoons. During the 1840s, factory machinery and methods were used to augment the production of silverware. In 1863, electroplated silver flatware was introduced and continued until 1962.
Throughout its history, Gorham was noted for the fine quality and superior design of its products. The company was sold to Textron, Inc. in 1967.
Noted auction prices paid for perfect Gorham Martele ewer and plateau sets range from $6,500 to $180,000.
Question: Among some furniture my husband inherited when his grandparents died during the 1980s is a small mahogany cabinet 27 inches wide, 13 inches deep and 26 inches high with “WK&Co.” printed under its bottom. On each side is a rounded, scalloped storage section with a hinged lift-up lid. There are three front drawers, and it all rests on four fancy legs. Known by the family as “The Martha Washington,” the furniture once was used to store my husband’s grandmother’s portable sewing machine as well as sewing patterns, fabric scraps, a tape measure, pins and needles. It has not been used for many years, and we recently were surprised to discover a similar cabinet that sold for $275 at auction. Anything you can tell us about “Martha” and her apparent value is appreciated. — R.R., Maple Shade
Answer: During the first two decades of the 1900s, furniture like the one you described were popular pieces cherished by women who made clothing for themselves and members of their families, usually in a small room set aside for that purpose in their home.
In more prosperous homes, a special room often was kept for use by a seamstress who regularly visited certain houses where she created fashionable garments for customers, using a home’s “Martha Washington” as her silent assistant.
The “WK Cowan Company” printed on your piece is the mark of its maker, William Kennett Cowan. Founded during the 1890s, the company began producing popular walnut and mahogany Colonial Revival furniture. Items included the Chippendale and Hepplewhite styled George Washington desk and Martha Washington sewing table.
Prices paid for Cowan Martha Washington sewing cabinets vary based on condition, and one in excellent condition recently sold for $395.
Alyce Hand Benham is an antiques broker, appraiser and estate-liquidation specialist. Send questions to: Alyce Benham, Living section, The Press of Atlantic City, 1000 W. Washington Ave., Pleasantville, NJ 08232. Email: treasuresby firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters may be used in future columns but cannot be answered individually, and photos cannot be returned.