|The Patterns of Knowles & Ladd|
San Francisco, CA
One of the most creative (and most unsung) of nineteenth century silversmithing firms was that of Knowles and Ladd of Providence, Rhode Island. According to an 1895 article in Jeweler's Circular & Horological Review, the history of this firm began in 1852 with the takover of the firm of Farrington & Salisbury by Henry L. Webster and Joseph B. Knowles under the name of Webster and Knowles.1 However, D. Albert Soeffing has stated in a 1996 article that the name of this firm was actually H. L. Webster & Co., the 'company' including "Edward P. Knowles who, evidence suggests, was the father of Joseph B. and Stephen M. [Knowles]" and the capitalist behind the business.2 In any case, both sources agree that Webster withdrew from the partnership with Joseph in 1864,
Soeffing mentioning that Webster sold his interest only in the month of his death.
"With the departure of Webster, Knowles took on a new partner...Samuel J. Ladd, an employee with the old firm...and the business became known as Knowles & Ladd."3 Although Joseph's brother Stephen became involved with the firm in 1868, the name was used until 1875, when it became J.B. and S.M. Knowles.
Although it is for their proprietary patterns that Knowles & Ladd are known, they also made "plain coin" patterns common to many smiths of the era: FRENCH THREAD, ANTIQUE, STRAIGHT TIPT, FIDDLE TIPT (which the firm called CONNECTICUT),SHELL, and a "simplification of the KING."4 Another simple pattern, called DART, was also made by several manufacturers. The examples in Fig.1 have also been engraved. The predecessor firm, Webster & Knowles or H.L. Webster & Co., introduced two patterns which K&L probably continued to produce, although I have not seen any examples so marked. CABLE (Fig.2, Fig.3) came in two variations, one with a leaf form below the cable at the top of the stem. This pattern often carried an embossed leaf mark that may have been a regional mark for the silversmiths of the area. (For a close-up of this mark, see mark #1 in Fig. 3). The other known Webster pattern was PINEAPPLE, an OLIVE-type variant, with what looks more like some sort of seed pod than a pineapple. The motif appears in five places on the front and back (Fig.4). CABLE was introduced in 1858, whilst PINEAPPLE first appeared the next year.
Although Gorham had switched from the coin to the sterling standard in 1868 5, K&L continued to produce coin silver after that date. I have not been able to find a reference to a year when K&L or their successor, J.B. & S.M. Knowles, went to the sterling standard. However, quite a few examples of the K&L patterns appear with a sterling mark, possibly because the patterns continued to be made by the later Knowles firm.
Thanks to a rare manufacturer's trade catalogue issued in 1879 or 18806, we now know the actual pattern names for many of the K&L patterns. The first known Knowles & Ladd pattern was IVY, introduced in 1868 (Fig.5). On internet auction sites, I have seen this and other K&L patterns attributed to Newell Harding, since examples do occur which carry Harding's backstamp (my IVY example included), but we have to remember that the Boston firm did not use a separate manufacturer's mark from their retailer mark. Thus, I believe that patterns currently attributed to Harding were produced by other firms, including what has come to be known as the "Harding MEDALLION" pattern.
Unfortunately for today's collectors, Knowles & Ladd only very infrequently stamped their "K&L" mark on their flatware, so as we will discover, their work has largely gone unattributed in today's market.
CRETE (Fig.6), K&L's answer to Gorham's patented 1868 pattern, POMPEII, must have been introduced within a couple of years of that date. In fact, POMPEII's success triggered not only CRETE, but two more San Francisco variations of the basic design, Schulz & Fischer's PACIFIC and William K. Vanderslice's DE ANZA (Fig.7, Fig.7a). Fig.6's pickle knife is one of the few pieces actually marked "K&L."
A K&L pattern bearing strawberries and bizarrely called QUEEN (Fig.8) came out in 1870. Somewhere around this time the engraved pattern called YORK (Fig.9) was also introduced. In 1872 the firm created the EMPEROR pattern (Fig.10), which is often mistaken for Gorham's LOUIS XIV, patented in 1870. The last of the K&L patterns identified in the trade catalogue was CORAL (Fig.11), an interestingly shaped, single-die pattern, also introduced ca. 1872. To me it foreshadows the Archibald Knox-style designs for Liberty and Co. of London.
The rest of the die-struck patterns in the trade catalogue--CECIL, CLINTON, CORONET and CRESCENT, were introduced after Knowles & Ladd became J.B. & S.M. Knowles and thus will not be shown here.
In addition, the catalogue pictured eight engraved patterns, numbered 1 through 7 and WAVE. The first seven use the ANTIQUE blank, whilst WAVE is a pointed end pattern somewhat similar to YORK's blank. There are no accompanying introduction dates, but the engraving styles lead me to believe that most if not all were made after K&L became Knowles. I have seen only two examples of these engraved patterns, #4 (Fig.12) and #7 (Fig.13); both are marked "sterling." In the book "Silver in the Golden State"7, both of these patterns are identified as being by San Francisco maker Schulz & Fischer under the names GRECIAN and OCCIDENTAL, respectively. Instead, I feel sure that S&F bought the stock from Knowles unmarked and put their backstamp on the already-finished articles, as in Fig.13.
Now come the speculative patterns. First there is the blank which, when a medallion is applied, has been attributed to Newell Harding. In Fig.14 instead of a medallion a stag head has been applied, and the piece
is marked "K&L." Fig.15 shows the same blank with an applied high-relief
lady's head facing forward. Although the left-hand example is marked only "COIN
," the right-hand example with a slightly different blank is marked "KNOWLES
& LADD." Although my example is marked only "COIN," another example was seen in an online auction with a slightly different blank and was marked "KNOWLES & LADD." These pieces allow us to question whether the "Harding Medallion" (Fig.16) was in actuality made by K&L. Unfortunately, I have never seen a piece marked anything other than "COIN" and occasionally an accompanying number. If readers have a marked example, please send a picture of it to this website. Fig.17 shows a couple of examples of the engraved blank with nothing applied.
In Fig.6 we have seen K&L's CRETE. Fig.18 shows an engraved pattern with the same blank and a bowl which I have seen on other K&L patterns. Although marked only "COIN," it seems likely to be from K&L's workshop, and I have called it CRETE ENGRAVED.
The Knowles firms made some very distinctive implement ends, especially the tines and blades of their pickle sets (Fig.19), and on the strength of this comparison, I am attributing the single-die patterns on the extremes of left and right in the figure to K&L. Having found two variants of what I at first took to be a multi-motif pattern, I called them both LEAF & BERRY. However, since no other variants have surfaced, I propose calling the left-hand pattern STRAWBERRY (Fig. 20). Since I am "botanically challenged," I do not recognize what berry is represented in the right-hand example (Fig.21). If any reader can identify the plant, I would appreciate the information. For now I will continue calling it LEAF & BERRY. Each of the patterns was made with both flat and cylindrical handles, the latter being an 1870's characteristic. Although numerous examples of these two patterns have come my way, I have never seen a place piece in these single-die-strucks.
Having been on the lookout for LEAF & BERRY pieces, I came across the same blank that had been engraved instead of die-struck (Fig.22). Although the leaf-and-berry theme had not been carried out in these engraved examples, I called the pattern LEAF & BERRY ENGRAVED in order to remember the shape of the blank. One example, a teaspoon, turned up in an online auction - marked "K&L," whilst another, a sugar shell, carried presentation dates of "1844-69" on its reverse.
Using this same method of comparing implement ends, I believe the single-die pattern in Fig.23 is also a Knowles pattern. Given that the knife example is engraved "New Year's Day 1876, we can ascribe it to K&L rather than the later Knowles company. I have named it CHARADE.
After Samuel J. Ladd retired in 1875, the newly-named Knowles firm undoubtedly continued to produce K&L patterns, since many examples are marked "sterling" and later implement forms appear.
Thanks to D. Albert Soeffing for unearthing the Knowles trade catalogue from the depths of the Research library of the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC., and for his seminal article.8