The Fine Art of SilversmithingDuring the colonial period in America, the silversmith was considered one of the most respected and skilled craftsmen. For one thing, his was part of a tradition brought from England to the New World. Most colonists felt that owning silver articles was a sign of prestige, a feeling that still exists in the United States today. And the artisans who could work silver into beautiful, valuable objects were therefore highly regarded. Most silversmiths, in fact, stamped their initials (or full name) on each piece they made. Probably the most famous silversmith from colonial America was Paul Revere-although his fame stems more from a ride on a horse than his skill with working metal. Yet, Revere was truly a fine silversmith, one of the best from the city of Boston, Massachusetts, during the 18th century. His deep commitment to the Patriot cause led him to design (in 1768) the best example of early American silver ever made, the "Sons of Liberty" punchbowl. Most of the objects made by early colonial silversmiths were tankards, cups, spoons, and dishes. The silversmith would melt silver coins or other objects to make the new piece. In fact, many people preferred to convert their silver currency into silverware, because it was more easily identified and was less likely to be stolen. Sometimes a customer would bring in silver to be melted and made into something else. The cost of the silver was deducted from the price of the finished work. Otherwise, silversmiths charged by weight of the silver and by the amount of labor involved. Silversmiths were trained by apprenticeship. A boy began work for a master at about 14. The master craftsman taught the apprentice, and fed and clothed him for at least four years. An apprentice could not open his own business until he was at least 21. Among colonial America's other gifted silversmiths were John Hull and Robert Sanderson, who were key craftsmen of 17th-century Boston. Some of their works still survive, such as a beaker from about 1659 now on display in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Another great New England silversmith was John Coney, who was probably trained by Hull and Sanderson. New York boasted Jurian Blanck, Jr., born in the colonies and the son of Dutch immigrants, and Philadelphia produced its own favorite, Joseph Richardson, Sr. Their work, consisting of dishes, cups, and spoons, can still be seen in museums and private collections throughout the country.
Illustration: Arrangement of fine silver tankards. bowls and candlesticks
(C) 1979. Panarizon Publishing Corp. USA
Photo: Henry Francis Dupont Museum; Winterthur. Del.
Printed in Italy 03.012.01.03