History Lesson: Vaillancourt’s Gorham Silver Chalkware

Licensed Vaillancourt Folk Art Chalkware and packaging by Gorham Silver from 1987.

Licensed Vaillancourt Folk Art Chalkware and packaging by Gorham Silver from 1987.

As with all businesses, learning and adapting is part of the everyday growth cycle. When Vaillancourt Folk Art first started selling chalkware and folk art in 1984, the success was immediate. As the company’s history goes into detail with, one of the challenges was keeping up with the demand of production—starting in Vaillancourt’s living space at home before expanding into their home basement. One business practice that was common during the 1980s was licensing. So, in late 1986, Vaillancourt Folk Art decided to accept the offer extended by Gorham Silver to help offset their distribution challenges as well as increase revenue.

Licensed Vaillancourt Folk Art Chalkware by Gorham Silver from 1987.

Licensed Vaillancourt Folk Art Chalkware by Gorham Silver from 1987.

To start, Judi and Gary chose a small selection of Santas, rabbits, and ornaments that they felt could be created by the Taiwanese company. The goal was to produce these pieces overseas to keep the prices low. The Vaillancourts took a trip to Taipei to assist in setting up production and to their surprise, the batches were so perfectly produced that it was often difficult to tell the difference between the licensed products and Judi’s original designs (which were sparse of detail, to begin with). In addition to reproducing Judi’s originals, Gorham Silver created custom packaging and the line was a huge success.

Fortunately, Gorham Silver went out of business and the line died within a short period of time. Looking back, if the line had continued on the trajectory it had, the price point would have put the American studios out of business and the fine art quality that Vaillancourt is known for today would never have come to fruition. It was a lesson learned well after the fact, but Vaillancourt never again tried to license Judi’s designs in a competitive medium.

Today, many of the original Vaillancourt Folk Art Chalkware by Gorham can be found on the secondary market and within the Vaillancourt Christmas Museum. The pieces are easy to identify because of the simple design and that the pieces were never signed on the bottom. The more popular pieces among collectors include the original “Gorham Silver” sticker on the bottom and the matching gift box. In recent years, this collection has become popular among collectors because of the extremely limited production and the untold story of the licensed replicas.