article # 105



by Dorothea Burstyn
(click on photos to enlarge image)

Gorham’s Fleurs des Siècles gift line designed by Jane Hutcheson

"Blooming beautifully from here to eternity to grow more precious with time…" and "The Gorham Fleurs you will pick will last forever" were the enthusiastic advertising slogans Gorham chose to describe their Fleurs des Siècles gift line. The large selection of flower arrangements, which were produced by Gorham from the early 1970 to mid-1980s contain an amazing variety of flowers, leaves, nuts and berries. Each jeweled metal flower or leaf is handcrafted and hand enameled over gold plate. Looking at these exquisitely arranged bouquets tucked into sterling and gold plated cachepots, authentic reproductions of antique porcelain vases, various baskets or blooming within Murano glass domes, one has no idea of the romantic story behind their creation.
Jane Hutcheson, impressed and inspired by the 17th and 18th century Vincennes porcelain flowers, made up arrangements of clay flowers that she displayed in the window of Alice Maynard’s needlework shop at 558 Madison Avenue in New York City. By a lucky coincidence Vincent Lippe, founder and president of a national wholesale gift wares concern, saw them there and recognized immediately their potential (note 1). He got into contact with Ms. Hutcheson and secured an exclusive distribution contract from her. On approaching Gorham, the idea of making these flower arrangements in metal was enthusiastically adopted and the march of the "Fleurs des Siècles" to one of Gorham’s commercially most successful gift lines had begun (note 2).

The Gorham Giftware Division is described as a world unto itself. It was headed by Joe Lavoie, who was a business wizard and had a real knack for spotting and creating new trends (note 3). In the seventies the Gorham Company had three main divisions: silver, china and crystal, and gifts. The main difference among them was that the silver and china/crystal divisions developed and introduced several items each year that would become staples in the line, while the gift division had to cater to ever changing trends in the market. This meant that even well-selling lines had to be retired to make room for products with a new look and theme (note 4).
It took nearly two years from acceptance of the designs until Gorham could go into production. Jane Hutcheson spent much time in the Gorham factory in Providence, where the prototypes were developed. She reviewed production procedures with Gorham workers and remembers training women workers for over 10 years (note 5). The first design ever produced was H2 -- a creation in green and white sensitively arranged in a French style porcelain vase (right). This first composition shows the main features of almost all of Jane Hutchenson's flower creations. Proportionally following the golden ratio (note 6), it combines a few large flowers with a multitude of smaller blooms; the spare spaces are filled out with fruit and leaf elements. The wire stems are very flexible, which allows for individual rearranging and also gives a trembling effect. There is a dizzying array of different flower and leaf shapes; Ms. Hutcheson added new forms as the line evolved. The berries are "jeweled" - opaque glass beads in deep shades of jade, blue, red, brown and black. There is also a multitude of gold berry and seed shapes (below left and right). Inspiration came from many different sources, when Jane visited a Japanese flower show, she decided to add an Asian touch to her line (note 7).
Gorham Fleurs des Siècles: H2, the first design ever produced
Gorham Fleurs des Siècles: Details showing berries and leaf elements Gorham Fleurs des Siècles: Details showing berries and leaf elements
Details showing berries and leaf elements
Gorham 'Chinese Basket/Mandarin' as advertised in the New Yorker, October 1973
(left) Advertised as " Chinese Basket/Mandarin" 9 inches, sold for $ 200.00, pictured in the New Yorker, ad October 1973. A very similar arrangement, but 11 ¼ inches in height, was called Chrysanthemum Chinese Basket and sold for $ 400.00. (Price list Gorham 1983)

Monteith shaped bowl, according to Jane Hutcheson one of the favorites ordered over and over
(below left)

Advertised as "Heirbloom" in the November 1977 ad of The Magazine Antiques The arrangement was called "Apricot Oval" and sold for $ 250.00.
(below right)
The containers used for the flower arrangements contribute additional charm. They range from monteith-shaped bowls to footed neoclassical vases, most of which are authentic reproductions of French and American porcelain vases from 1770 to 1810. Gorham made these arrangements in a wide range of sizes and prices. To illustrate this, the image below shows the very delicate "Edelweiss" in a Krautheim/Bavarian flower vase, the medium-sized "blue/green jeweled urn arrangement H 16" in a Herend/Hungary footed vase and the substantial centerpiece "French Rose Cache pot" (note 8).
containers used for the flower arrangements contribute additional charm
from left to right: the very delicate "Edelweiss" in a Krautheim/Bavarian flower vase,
the medium-sized "blue/green jeweled urn arrangement H 16" in a Herend/Hungary footed vase
and the substantial centerpiece "French Rose Cache pot"
The bibelots -- dainty arrangements of a few blooms or topiaries -- were made in two sizes (8 inches and 6 ½ inches in height) and use silver-plated or gold-plate-on-sterling cachepots (below left). Plexiglas containers were used for Fabergé-inspired single blooms (below right).
The most charming by far are the basket arrangements. They were made in many different sizes, from 3 ½ inches to 6 inches in width, and were filled with strawberries, leaves and blooms (right),

field flowers, lilies of the valley, anemones, pansies and - my special favorite - with gold and silver flowers, fruits, nuts and berries (below left).

Gorham made these also for Cartier. Those with the Cartier label had finer quality vermeil baskets, but were filled with the same fruit and flower designs as mentioned above (below right).
strawberries, leaves and blooms
These attractive basket designs caught the eye of another designer, Gloria Vanderbilt, who started a very similar line of metal flowers for Franklin Mint. As one can see from one example (right), the Vanderbilt flower arrangement copies the Hutcheson concept, but lacks its sophistication. Jane Hutcheson had her lawyer contact Ms. Vanderbilt, and then she followed up with a personal phone call. As a consequence Gloria Vanderbilt discontinued her flower arrangement line, and a costly law-suit was avoided (note 9).
Gloria Vanderbilt for Franklin Mint
Gorham did an excellent promotion for the Fleurs des Siècles line. The company printed beautifully illustrated brochures and took out 2-full-page ads in the New Yorker and The Magazine Antiques over many years. As an additional sales tool, they issued a Fleurs des Siècles book with large detailed color illustrations for retailers. According to the various ads, the Fleurs des Siècles line was carried by retailers in 52 states and included many high-prestige giftware and jewelry stores like Marshall Field in Chicago, Shreve, Crump and Low in Boston and Shreve in San Francisco, to name just a few. Each arrangement was delivered with the green and gold Fleurs des Siècles tag. Limited editions had an additional letter and registration card which could be sent back to The Gorham Company in Providence, R.I. for inclusion in an ownership registry. The question of which types of Fleurs des Siècles were chosen for limited editions and which for open production cannot be conclusively answered (note 10), for instance, a limited edition example in my collection is called "Vincennes", but it is identical to the arrangement called "French Rose Cache pot" in The Magazines Antiques ad, November 1980.
green and gold tag which accompanied Fleurs des Siècles line registration card for inclusion in the ownership registry
Jane Hutcheson designed a few more lines for Gorham. Advertised with the Fleurs des Siècles were the Fleurs boxes from 1973 to 1980. These came in various sizes, either silver- or gold-plated, and in round, rectangular, square and heart shapes. They were velvet-lined and featured small Fleurs des Siècles arrangements on their lids. In 1979 Jane Hutcheson copyrighted a new line of "Imperial eggs", which were a great success, as they sparked the interest of a broad range of collectors. Their Murano glass domes presented a certain problem, since they had to be produced well and properly sealed (note 11). Ms. Hutcheson also designed flower arrangements in glass. Gorham had these produced in Japan and marketed them under the "Jardins de Verre" name.
Lily of the valley Imperial eggs picture illustrating production problems with Imperial eggs line
Lily of the valley Imperial egg
picture illustrating production problems
with Imperial eggs line
Proud owners of Fleurs des Siècles arrangements will be pleased to hear that one special arrangement is in the English Royal Collection.
An order by the Duke and Duchess of Bedford as a birthday present for Queen Elizabeth II, it was personally arranged by Jane Hutcheson and delivered by a Gorham agent to England.
It is a very rich composition of white camellias, a profusion of smaller blooms and further enriched with berries and various leaves. This one of a kind creation stands 18 ½ inches high and 16 ¼ inches in diameter (right).
Fleurs des Siècles arrangement ordered as a birthday present for Queen Elizabeth II
The Fleurs des Siècles -- exquisite floral arrangements of artistic refinement -- are sought-after collector’s items now and due to their workmanship, durability and timeless beauty can be considered the classic antiques of the future.

I would like to thank Ms. Kay O. Freeman for making the connection with Ms. Jane Hutcheson, many thanks also to Dr. W. P. Hood Jr. for reading this manuscript.

1. Letter from Jane S. Hutcheson, October 14, 2008. I am grateful to Ms. Hutcheson for answering all my questions and also sending lots of picture material re Fleurs des Siècles. Ms. Hutcheson is born 1920 and attended private schools in Richmond, Virginia. Although she has no formal art school training, she had always put her creative talents to good use.
2. Vincent Lippe (1912 - 1980) was a sales agent for Gorham giftware. His firm was located at 225 Fifth Avenue in New York City. He had excellent business connections with Joe Lavoie, who became head of the new Gorham Giftware Division.
3. Email, October 24, 2008, from Sam Hough, cataloguer of the Gorham archives at the John Hay Library, Providence, RI, and telephone conversation between Sam Hough and Burr Sebring, who was head of design at Gorham during the 1970s.
4. Email October 26, 2008, from Ms. Shirley Blackall, former production manager of Gorham’s gift division, which produced Norman Rockwell figurines, Christmas ornaments, various figurines, porcelain bird figures, porcelain clown figures, Capodimonte, Murano glassware, the Fleurs des Siècles, a doll-line and the Gorham teddy bear collection.
5. Telephone conversation with Jane Hutcheson, October 15, 2008.
6. Golden ratio = 1/3 container, 2/3 flower arrangement.
7. Handwritten remark by Jane Hutcheson on sent picture material.
8. The Fleurs des Siècles retailed from $ 70.00 to $ 450.00. A mark-up of 100% for retailers was standard. The first design, H2, outsold all others.
9. Telephone conversation with Jane Hutcheson, October 15, 2008.
10. None of my contacts could answer this question. According to an email, September 24, 2008, from Holly Snyder, Ph.D., History Librarian at the John Hay Library, post -WWII material was received, but Brown Forman (the owner at that time) had removed a lot of documents, they considered "proprietary". According to an email from Sam Hough, October 24, 2008, Gorham’s Gift Division was shut down in 1994. All files and all their records were stuffed in boxes and put into an engineering closet in the factory. They may have been sent to the John Hay Library after the factory closed with other cartons which have not been opened.
11. Email Ms. Blackall, October 26, 2008.
Dorothea Burstyn
Editor of the SSC Journal (Silver Society of Canada)
- 2008 -