Is it time for another Egyptian revival? It might be, following after exciting news from the field of Egyptology — a 3,000 year old “Lost Golden City” was recently found in Luxor. This is the most important discovery since King Tut’s Tomb in 1922. At Hammond-Harwood House we have our own example of Egyptian revival.
Dr. William Alexander Hammond (1828-1900) chose this elaborate Egyptian revival necklace as a gift for his niece Anna Phillipa on January 22, 1882. Dr. Hammond was the great-nephew of Matthias Hammond, the original owner of the Hammond-Harwood House. While some may see Dr. Hammond’s choice in jewelry as extravagant, in the late 19th century his selection was the height of style. These pieces were made by the Gorham Manufacturing Company, which was started by Jabez Gorham in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1831. The shop originally specialized in coin silver and other small items. In 1842 Congress enacted a tariff on the import of foreign silver, paving the way for Americans like the Gorhams, who grew their operation and opened new locations in Providence and New York City. The Gorhams were very aware of contemporary styles in the 1880s, including Egyptian revival which grew in popularity thanks to archaeological digs–the sphinx, pyramid, and hieroglyphics were all admired forms. During this time jewelry made from ancient coins or die-stamped silver disks imitating coins, like this necklace, became the fashion for young ladies.
If you lived in the late 19th century you likely would have heard the name of Dr. William Alexander Hammond, but he has now drifted into what his biographer has called “undeserved obscurity.” He was a commanding presence, a gifted orator, 6’2” and 250 pounds, who dominated any room he entered. Most well known as the Surgeon General during the American Civil War, he was also a pioneer in the field of nervous diseases and a crusader in the anti-asylum movement.
What is less known about Dr. Hammond is his eclectic style. Dr. Hammond’s taste for exotic decorative arts was on display in his gilded age drawing room at 27 West 54th Street in New York City. Decorations included a Caterina Cornaro Chest, Japanese cups, and Spanish faience pottery. He hired the firm of Engel and Reynolds to paint a Celtic cross pattern on his ceiling and to reproduce the Bayeux tapestry. The walls were covered in raw silk with wainscoting of satinwood inlaid with ebony. A small version of the Medici Venus looked on from the back of the room. The Art Amateur Magazine wrote in June 1879 that Dr. Hammond “uses his own ideas and selects his designs himself and gives instructions to the artisans he employs.” Three years later, Mrs. E.W. Sherwood commented in Harper’s Monthly Magazine, October 1882, that Hammond’s house was among the first “artistic interiors in New York.”
A stark contrast from the polished rococo and neoclassical designs of the Hammond-Harwood House, this jewelry and the description of Dr. Hammond’s house provide insight into a later Hammond family member’s taste during the gilded age. These items will be on display for the month of May in the study next to the portraits of Dr. Hammond’s parents, so make sure to stop by for a tour and see it!