Electric Candelabrum by Gorham and Company

Curator's Choice tells the stories behind prized objects and artifacts from the collections of historical organizations and cultural institutions in Pennsylvania.

For the first time in ninety years, silver table items belonging to the family of industrialist Asa Packer (1805-1879) have been shown to the public. Stored since 1912 in vaults in the family’s mansion in the Carbon County seat of Jim Thorpe, the silver collection, totaling three hundred and thirty-six pieces made or retailed by leading firms of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, has been locked away following the death of Packer’s daughter, Mary Packer Cummings (1839-1912), the last resident of the Italianate-style villa (see “Lost & Found,” Winter 2001). Cum­mings was the only child of Asa and Sarah Packer to live into the twentieth century. She bequeathed the family’s residency to the Borough of Mauch Chunk (renamed Jim Thorpe in 1953).

The collection includes pieces that affluent families of the era found fashionable. Among the objects are a tall ewer made by Tiffany & Co.; a compote in the Egyptian Revival style manufactured by J.E. Caldwell Company; a centerpiece bowl by Gorham and Company in its highly prized and highly sought­-after “Martele” pattern; an oval fluted bread tray manufactured by Bailey, Banks, and Biddle; and candlesticks by Dominick and Haff. Of special note is a spectacular electric candelabrum created by Gorham and Company.

Standing twenty-nine inches high, the candelabrum is fashioned in the Louis XV style, popular during the second half of the nineteenth century. Decorated with embossed flowers resembling fleur­-de-lis and heavy applied scroll work, the massive lighting device measures nearly twenty-three inches in width. Seven ornate Rococo-style arms support faux candles of cased glass, capped by elaborately pierced silver shades. The candelabrum is engraved MPC for Mary Pack­er Cummings.

In addition to important pieces of silver, such as tea and coffee services, baskets, fish slices, and pitchers, several in unusual and distinctive styles of the period, the collection includes flatware, picture frames, and toilet articles. Many are emblazoned with the family’s initials or monograms. The collection will be eventually installed as a permanent exhibit at the Asa Packer Mansion.

For more information, write: Asa Packer Mansion, Packer Hill Road, Post Office Box 108, Jim Thorpe, PA 18229-0108; or telephone (570) 325-3229.