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Featured Museum Piece

All-Over Hand-Chased Floral Curling Tongs and Box

This month, we feature from our museum a piece that is rare, different, and fun – a set of sterling silver hair curling tongs and their accompanying lighter box. Curling tongs were the precursor to today’s modern curling iron. The first recorded use of heated tongs to curl or straighten hair was in 1872. Marcel Grateau, a Parisian stylist used heated tongs in an attempt to curl and straighten hair. Over time, this method for styling hair became quite popular and the modern curling iron was born

This particular set is decorated with hand-chasing and an all-over floral design. The tongs rest atop a pair of supports which are meant to hold the tongs above an oil-fueled flame used for heating. (We should never again complain about blow dryers.) The curling tongs measure 10" in length and the accompanying lighter box is 6" long. Replacements, Ltd. has located a Gorham catalog from 1892 which shows this lovely box and tong set. In the catalog, the lighter box and curling tongs are listed in the “Sterling Silver Toilet Ware” section on a page that also includes a “manicure tray.” Attributes that add to the rarity of our sterling silver curling tongs and box set are the gold washed interior of the lighter box and the fact that the box still has the screw top that fits above the oil basin and wicks. Most curling sets from the turn of the century that are on the market today are missing this piece. The backstamp on the bottom of the chased lighter box indicates that this set was produced by Gorham Silver for sale by Black, Starr, and Frost, Ltd. Black, Starr, and Frost had partnerships with various silver manufacturers from 1810 to the 1960’s.

A company that can produce inspired designs like this set of curling tongs and lighter box and remain in business for 177 years is likely to have an interesting history, and Gorham in fact does. Jabez Gorham started Gorham Silver in 1831 in a shop on Steeple Street in Providence, Rhode Island. Born to a family of eight, he was apprenticed to New England silver patriarch Nehemiah Dodge at a very early age. Dodge is known as one of the founders of the silver and jewelry crafts industry in 18th century New England. After his seven-year apprenticeship with Dodge, Jabez formed his own business and quickly established a name for himself creating distinctive handcrafted silver pieces. One of these pieces was the "French filigree" chain, a gold chain designed to lay a bit flatter and “pick” clothing less than other similar jewelry pieces. This chain has also been called the “Gorham Chain” and the “Gadroon Chain.” Jabez did not hit his stride though until his business began producing "coin silver" spoons. The silver used to create these unique spoons was actually sourced from melted coins! The popularity of these spoons grew rapidly throughout the Northeast, and Jabez Gorham was on his way. Jabez felt the company could grow even more robustly if he could only secure additional capital. With the addition of several investors, he was able to enable the company financially for future growth, and took the opportunity to bring his son John aboard. John was an accomplished businessperson perfectly suited to run the company, and he led expansion in many areas including silver hollowware. John took total control of the company when Jabez retired, and took it to even greater heights. By 1875, there were over 400 employees, and in 1890 Gorham moved to a new 30-acre campus in Providence. A modern office building was designed for Gorham in 1905 by renowned architect Stanford White, and a store was located on Fifth Avenue in New York City. Gorham has continued to prosper, and has expanded into other dinnerware product categories including very delicate yet versatile china patterns as well as high-quality crystal patterns. So congratulations to Gorham Silver on over 175 years of superior silver craftsmanship!;

The chased sterling silver hair curling tongs from our museum are really amazing, so if you can make it to our facilities in person to see these exquisite pieces, by all means do so! While the beautiful silver pieces that we feature here, like all of our museum pieces, are not for sale, we do offer a great array of beautiful Gorham silver pieces available for purchase. We even have pieces from Black, Starr, and Frost! We invite you to come to our facility in person to see these wonderful pieces, and more. Our Showroom and Museum are open from 9:00am to 7:00pm ET, 7 days a week (except holidays). The Showroom and Museum are conveniently located between Greensboro and Burlington, NC, at exit 132 off Interstate 85/40. We look forward to seeing you!

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