Gorham Martelé terrapin soup tureen on stand, $13,000 (£10,300) at Doyle New York.

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The favourite dish of 27th US president, William Howard Taft, he hired a chef at the White House for the specific purpose of preparing it.

The archives of the Providence, Rhode Island, silversmith Gorham list four “terrapin sets” in its handmade Martelé line, each comprising a soup tureen and 12 matching plates.

They were very expensive. A Martelé tureen took 136 hours to make and 158 hours to chase, all in the context of a 60-hour week. The net factory price was $520. The dishes, priced at $50 each, took over eight hours each to ‘raise’ and were then required around 20 hours of chasing.

Mysterious owner MCM

The example offered for sale at Doyle New York (28% buyer’s premium) as part of the Manhattan firm’s April 10 auction of American Art, Silver, Furniture & Décor dated to 1912.

The tureen with its turtle finial and stand with stylised shell and seaweed feet weighed 124oz. Across the bombe-form body and domed cover it was chased with scrolling seaweed and ripples to replicate water. Monogrammed MCM, with some research it may be possible to work out the original owner.

Each of the dozen matching soup plates were chased and engraved to the scalloped borders with turtles, shells and seaweed. They weighed a total of 147oz. Offered as two lots, the tureen took $13,000 (£10,300) and the plates $11,000 (£8800).


Set of 12 Gorham Martelé terrapin soup plates, $11,000 (£8800) at Doyle New York.

The trade name Martelé derives from the French verb marteler (to hammer), denoting the distinctive hand-hammered surface of the silverware.

The range was produced in Gorham’s workshops by its best silversmiths under the direction of Englishman William Christmas Codman (1839-1921).

Another terrapin tureen to a different model with 12 bowls was sold by Sotheby’s New York in April 2023 for $30,000 (£23,700).