For those collecting antique silver and silver plate, collecting hotel silver is increasing in popularity. Hotel silver captures the grandeur of a bygone era. Collectors are drawn by the historical significance and visual appearance of pieces. Pieces with the hotel’s name, and crests, and logos are particularly sought after. Three companies, the International Silver Company, Reed and Barton, and Gorham Corporation were major manufacturers of hotel silver. Dating is often not difficult. On the underside of most International Silver hotel pieces you many find a small square box with two digits in it, representing the year that the particular piece was manufactured. A box with the digit 53 in represents 1953. Dated silver pieces made by R. Wallace may have numbers such as “12-32” for December 1932.
Hotel silver is hefty and durable. Dents, dings, scratches, and minor pitting are expected due to its constant use. These character marks add to a piece’s charm and character. Corrosion on the inside is found in many of these pieces. If you wish to use the piece for serving, a silversmith can clean and replate the interior or exterior.
Well-know hotels are most desirable. To make a collection interesting, avoid limited periods and geographic locations. Collecting from a coast to coast and across a wide historical time line will result in a collection that is both historically and aesthetically pleasing.
The National Trust Historic Hotels of America (HHA) is a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It has identified over 213 quality hotels that have faithfully maintained their historic architecture and ambience. Some examples:
The Palace Hotel
San Francisco, CA
William Ralston had a dream to build a hotel that would make Europe's finest hotels pale in comparison.
However, the $5 million price tag exhausted his banking empire and a few weeks before the Palace's grand opening, Ralston's body was found floating in the San Francisco Bay. His partner, Senator William Sharon continued the dream and on October 2, 1875, the Palace Hotel opened its doors. In 1906 when a massive earthquake shook all of San Francisco the hotel survived the quake. Fires started in the wake of the earthquake and the restored hotel reopened it doors in 1909 and has been a San Francisco landmark ever since.
The Palmer House Hilton
This hotel was originally opened in 1871, just 13 days before the Great Chicago Fire reduced it to ashes. Real estate baron Potter Palmer immediately built a new hotel on the site. It was the first Chicago hotel to have fireproofing, elevators, electricity and telephones. Mark Twain, Charles Dickens and Oscar Wilde made it their home-away-from-home.
New York, New York
New York's first luxury hotel, Astor House, opened on Broadway in Manhattan. John Jacob Astor, the richest man in America during the mid-1800s, financed the construction. Every room had running water, a luxury at that time. President-elect Abraham Lincoln gave a speech there on February 19, 1861. Astor House closed in 1913
The Willard Hotel
The Willard Hotel...It was the site where in 1861 delegates from 21 states met in a last attempt to avoid civil war. It became the official presidential residence for nearly a month in 1923 when Calvin Coolidge took up residence while the newly widowed Mrs. Warren Harding packed her belongings and vacated the White House. On 28 August 1963, Reverend Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his famous "I Have a Dream" speech at the Willard. Dr King then delivered this speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Its famous guests have included Presidents Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan, Lincoln, Grant, Taft, Wilson, Coolidge and Harding. Other guests have included Charles Dickens, Buffalo Bill, and P.T. Barnum.
The Brown Palace Hotel
Henry Cordes Brown opened his namesake hotel August 12, 1892. It was a tall, triangular building sitting at the intersections of Broadway, Tremont and 17th Streets. Electric lighting was in its infancy, but the Brown Palace generating its own electrical power. President Eisenhower, Winston Churchill, The Beatles, and the Spice Girls have all stayed at this luxury hotel. Teddy Roosevelt was the first President to stay at the Brown Palace Hotel when he came to Colorado to hunt bear in the spring of 1905. During Prohibition, Federal agents raided a Spanish-American War veterans’ reunion at the Brown Palace, confiscated their liquor and for a year padlocked the suite they had been using. Its historical collection contain items traced back to 1670; among them a pair of dueling pistols owned by Emperor Napoleon I and an ornate silver centerpiece commissioned by the British Royal Family.
The Hotel Jefferson
The Jefferson Hotel located in Richmond, Virginia was opened in 1895. It was considered as one of the finest examples of the Beaux Arts style in existence. Lewis Ginter built this Grand Hotel incorporating Renaissance and other architectural styles reflecting the Eclecticism which was in style at the turn of century. The building has a magnificent limestone and brick façade. It features Renaissance-style balconies, arched porticos, and an Italian clock tower. Two-story columns with gold leaf encircle the rotunda which served as the original lobby. From the rotunda, a grand staircase leads to the Palm Court Lobby. Alligators swam in the fountain ponds from 1901 until 1948. In the center of this upper lobby stands a life-sized statue of Thomas Jefferson carved from Carrara marble. It stands directly under a stained-glass domed skylight which still has 9 of its 12 original panes of Tiffany glass.
The hotel featured billiard rooms, a library, a ladies’s salon, Turkish and Russian baths, electric lights and elevators, and hot and cold water in the bedrooms. In the bedrooms a Teleseme (predecessor of the telephone) was available for room service.
In 1901 a fire destroyed much of the structure. The hotel reopened in 1902 but major renovations took several more years. In 1905 marbleized columns and Edwardian and rococo touches were added. The hotel features include mahogany paneling, marble floors, hand-carved fireplace mantels, ornate ceiling fixtures, wall sconces, and a collection of original oil paintings. Twelve US Presidents, Charles Lindberg, Henry Ford, Charlie Chaplain, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, and many other famous celebrities have stayed here. In 1969 The Jefferson was elected to the National Registry of Historical Places.