Treasure: Silver grooming set tied to Detroit’s past

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News

The email was intriguing. “I have attached the picture of a set that belonged to my father’s uncle, Frederick Bradley Thompson,” wrote Tina Entwistle of Commerce Township.

“He was born in 1872, married in 1898, and died in 1929. According to the book ‘City of Detroit 1701-1922’ by Clarence Burton, he was the founder of the Thompson Auto Company and one of the leading businessmen of the day in Detroit. Most of the pieces are monogrammed. There is a hand mirror, two military brushes, two other brushes (for shoes?), a whisk, a small round box, a button hook, and the remains of a nail file and a comb. Everything is sterling silver.”

Bob DuMouchelle of DuMouchelles gallery and auction house took a look at the pieces recently at an appraisal session held at the gallery downtown. “He never had children,” Entwistle said of Thompson, “and my dad was named after him. These pieces were always on his dresser.” The 10-piece set includes military brushers, a box that her father kept cufflinks in and a number of lesser-used pieces, including a nail file and button hook.

All bear the hallmark that resembles a hatchet surrounded by what looks like reeds, said DuMouchelle. That clue helped him identify the manufacturer as the William B. Kerr Co. of Newark, New Jersey. According to DuMouchelle, the company started in 1855 and was purchased by Gorham, a more commonly known silver company, in 1906. “Kerr also used a fleur de lis mark as well as this hatchet,” the appraiser told Entwistle.

“These are very interesting and of especially good quality,” he added, turning the weighty pieces over in his hand as he examined them more closely. “The sterling has a certain value, of course, but the fact that it’s tied to a piece of Detroit history also helps the value.” Even with a few dings and other small condition issues, he valued the set at $600-$900.

DuMouchelle said sterling and other silver items were often given as gifts at college graduations or for weddings. “It was either that or luggage,” he quipped. Many pieces of heirloom silver were melted down in recent years when the price of sterling was especially high. “Too many beautiful items were sold for scrap,” he told her. “It’s a shame. I’m really glad this didn’t meet that fate. It’s a fine example of pre-turn-of-the-century sterling and a great example of the kind of American sterling made prior to 1900.”

Typically monograms hurt sterling items, DuMouchelle says, as it’s difficult to find someone who shares the same initials. That’s not a problem in this case, as Entwistle intends to keep it in the family. “It’s nice to have a piece of Detroit history,” DuMouchelle agreed.

Do you have an object you would like to know more about? Send a photo and description that includes how you acquired the object to: The Detroit News, Trash or Treasure?, 160 W. Fort St., Detroit, MI 48226. Include your name and daytime telephone number. You may also send your photo and description to If chosen you’ll need to bring the items to an appraisal session. Photos cannot be returned.

About this item

Item : Sterling dresser set

Owner : Tina Entwistle, Commerce Township

Appraised by : Bob DuMouchelle, DuMouchelles

Estimated value : $600-$900 at auction