This month we feature a delightful hors d’oeuvre fork in the Chantilly pattern by Gorham Silver. Named after the famous French palace of Chantilly, the Chantilly pattern is the most popular sterling flatware pattern ever produced. Chantilly's graceful border and floral designs were inspired by the Rococo style of early eighteenth century France. During the reign of King Louis XV, Rococo emerged in response to the heavier, highly ornate art of the late Baroque period. Rococo comprised elaborate designs with playful swirls, scrolls, and decoration. The Chantilly pattern features a distinctive scroll design with fleur-de-lis accents. According to Gorham literature, Chantilly is “essentially a pattern that will appeal to those who seek in the family silver a certain simplicity with just enough ornament to relieve it of the appearance of plainness.” The diminutive hors d’oeuvre fork displayed in our museum is a fantastic representation of this refined pattern.
Literally meaning “outside the work,” “hors d’oeuvre” is taken from a French architectural term referring to a small building apart from the main one. The term first appeared in food context in the late 1600s, and originally referred to the variety of small plates of food that supplemented the main courses of the meal. At the time, a typical French meal included two or three courses, each of which consisted of a variety of different items served in a strict order. These courses would be supplemented by a number of smaller plates containing items like radishes, butter, pickles, artichoke hearts, and sardines, left on the table for the duration of the meal. By the nineteenth century, the meaning of “hors d’oeuvres” had shifted to become synonymous with appetizers – a word that appeared in English in the 1860s to refer to small bites served before a meal.
The designer for the Chantilly pattern, William Christmas Codman, was born in England on Christmas day, 1839. According to Charles Carpenter Jr. in Gorham Silver: 1831-1981, Codman showed an early aptitude for drawing and painting. After completing formal art training in Norwich, England, Codman worked as an ecclesiastical designer for several English silver makers, producing religious items for a number of cathedrals and abbeys (including Westminster Abbey). His Gothic-style pieces included lighting fixtures, communion plates, stained glass windows, and candelabra. In 1885, Gorham Silver created a new ecclesiastical department for religious wares and set out to find a designer to head this new department. Gothic design was extremely popular in ecclesiastical products at the time, and Gorham’s first place to look for a designer was England, where many of the most noted Gothic designers worked. At the time, William Christmas Codman was considered to be one of the most noteworthy Gothic designers, as was his son. In 1887, Gorham convinced William’s son to head their ecclesiastical department, and William joined the company as chief designer four years later, in 1891. Codman’s first major project for Gorham was designing products for the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition. The Codman designs showcased there included enameled and jeweled ewers, trays, and vases. These designs received good reviews, although Gorham’s most notable display at the exposition was a life-sized model of Christopher Columbus cast in solid silver (30,000 troy ounces worth!) modeled by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, who also designed the Statue of Liberty.
On July 30, 1895, Codman received a patent for the famed “Chantilly” design. Codman went on to create fifty-four other flatware patterns, although none achieved the success of Chantilly. In 1896, Codman began working on designs for Gorham’s “Martele” product line, Gorham’s response to the Arts & Crafts movement at the time. Pieces in “Martele” (French for “hammered”) were completely handmade by silver artisans. For the creation of pieces in this Art Nouveau-inspired line, a rough sketch of the intended design (many attributed to Codman himself) would be provided to the craftsmen working on the piece, who would be allowed the freedom to enhance the product’s design as they saw fit. “Martele” pieces garnered critical praise and numerous awards after being displayed at the Paris International Exposition of 1900, the Turin Exposition of 1902, the St. Louis State Fair in 1904, and other exhibitions. Eventually, more than 8,200 “Martele” pieces were produced over a forty year period; these pieces are much sought after and remain highly collectible. William Christmas Codman retired from Gorham in 1914, having worked there for 23 years. During his time as chief designer at Gorham, Codman demonstrated a versatility that allowed him to excel in both high-quality, mass-produced commercial designs like Chantilly and innovative, one-of-a-kind artware exemplified by “Martele.”
The Gorham Chantilly hors d’oeuvre fork in our museum is not for sale, but we do have a wide variety of Chantilly items available for purchase in our inventory; be sure to browse our web site. And remember that we always invite you to visit our facilities – here you’ll see a stunning variety of silver, china, crystal, and collectibles! Our retail store and museum are open from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm ET, 7 days (except holidays); free tours are available from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm ET, 7 days. The retail store and museum are conveniently located between Greensboro and Burlington, NC, at exit 132 off Interstate 85/40. We look forward to seeing you!