Thomas J. Pairpoint, son of William and Marie A. Pairpoint, was born in London on July 22, 1838. From an early age, young Thomas demonstrated an unmistakable artistic aptitude. William Pairpoint found an obliging French silversmith who would take his son on as an apprentice. Thomas began his apprenticeship with Morel Laneuil, at the Paris based firm of Elkington Company in 1858. Elkington was a leader in the development of silver-plating base metals such as Britannia. Upon completing his apprenticeship and returning to England in 1869, as a journeyman, Thomas joined the silversmith firm of Lambert & Rawlings where he worked as a designer and modeler.
Pairpoint’s Providence Daily Journal obituary (August 30, 1902, pg.3) sited by Leonard E. Padgett in his Pairpoint Glass states that Thomas was in business for himself. It is probable that what the Journal was referring to was the firm of William Pairpoint and Sons, consisting of William, and his sons Thomas, John, and Edward.
Thomas married in England. In 1865, his wife Ellen gave birth to their daughter, Ellen M. (Nellie). Nellie inherited her father’s artistic talent, and gained certain fame as an illustrator and author of two children’s books. It is probable that Nellie assisted her father in some of his designs.
Sources conflict on the date that Pairpoint began working as a designer for the Providence, Rhode Island firm of Gorham and Company Manufacturing Silversmiths. Charles H. Carpenter, Jr., writes in his Gorham Silver, that Pairpoint’s employment with Gorham began in 1868, while Padgett suggests the date of 1867. While at Gorham, Pairpoint contributed his creative talent to many pieces of the currently preferred decorative style called Renaissance Revival, designing silver plate accessories for fashionable Victorian ladies’ homes. In 1875, he entered a national design competition for the William Cullen Bryant trophy. In his design, Pairpoint is said to have stressed Bryant’s poetry. The most important piece of silver made by Gorham in the decade of the 1870s was the Pairpoint designed Century Vase. The vase was made specifically for the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition; it was the centerpiece of Gorham’s exhibit. Pairpoint spent 42 weeks of labor on the massive four-feet-two-inch high and five-feet-two-inch long vase. Gorham placed a value on the vase containing 2000 ounces of silver plus the 17,900 man-hours of labor at $25,000; a princely sum for the times.
Both Carpenter and Padgett references agree that Pairpoint left the employ of Gorham in 1877 to join the Meriden (Connecticut) Britannia Company.
Pairpoint’s tenure at Meriden Britannia was of short duration. He began at Meriden about December 1877, and the announcement of his departure from that company appeared in the August 1879 issue of Jewelers’ Circular and Horological Review.
Pairpoint’s celebrity spread through the industry by word of mouth between colleagues and via the silver trade press. An article in the September 1879, Jewelers’ Circular and Horological Review speaks of Pairpoint as, “one of the most skillful and artistic designers of the present day, having a reputation that is world wide.” He was one of the first in America to visualize silver as an art medium. In March 1880, Jewelers’ Circular and Horological Review published an article by Pairpoint entitled, Artwork & Silver.
Pairpoint In New Bedford:
In 1880, a small Britannia factory was established in New Bedford, Massachusetts adjacent to the Mt. Washington Glass Company by the glass company’s owners. The new company was formed specifically to make plated Britannia metal products to complement Mt. Washington’s glassware.
As an incentive to Thomas J. Pairpoint to leave Meriden, Mt. Washington’s owners offered him the position of superintendent of the new company, and his name would be that of the venture. Pairpoint, very much aware of his worth as a celebrated leader in his chosen field of expertise must have made a very lucrative deal with Mt. Washington’s management for the use of his name. They may also have offered Pairpoint a bounty for each skilled worker he could recruit. Because, when he left Meriden for New Bedford, he brought with him fifty of Meriden’s most valued artisans. Thus, with a fully trained and skilled workforce, and the country’s top name in the trade at its helm, the Pairpoint Manufacturing Company was founded.
Although Mt. Washington and Pairpoint Manufacturing were physically and organizationally distinct, the two companies shared the management services of Edward D. Mandell as president, and Alexander H. Seabury as treasurer. The Pairpoint operation’s capital investment was $100,000.00. The company prospered and received favorable national attention for its designs.
In 1881, a second building doubled the size of the factory. Demand for the company’s product prompted construction of a third building in 1882, and a decade later two additional buildings were erected. The apparent success of the enterprise must be attributed to the ability of Thomas J. Pairpoint.
An article in the June 1887, issue of Jewelers’ Circular and Horological Review announced, “Thomas J. Pairpoint originally of The Pairpoint Mfg., New Bedford, has severed his connection with the company on his own account,” on April 1, 1885. Thomas A. Tripp then filled Pairpoint’s former position. Seabury resigned as treasurer the following May, and Tripp succeeded him. An 1893 article informs us that with his brother Alfred J. as silver chaser, and his daughter Nellie M., Pairpoint was operating his own silver manufacturing enterprise in Providence. One of Pairpoint’s last designs was the Bajnotti Memorial Fountain, which still stands on the mall in front of the Providence City Hall.
Pairpoint’s abridged obituary appears below as it did in the August 30, 1902 issue of the Providence Daily Journal; diabetes took his life on August 29, at the age of 64 years. The end came with slight warning as he had been downtown and during the evening had seemed in the best of health and spirits. About 10 o’clock he complained of trouble with his breath and family members saw at once that he was in serious condition. Dr. Latham of Auburn was hastily summoned, but the patient was then beyond medical aid and died while seated in an easy chair. For several years past Mr. Pairpoint had been in poor health, but not of a nature to cause great anxiety, and his death came as a great shock to the family.
He is buried in the family plot in the Pocasset Cemetery in Providence, Rhode Island.
By Richard V. Simpson
Published with permission