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Silversmith

Golden Ball

The Golden Ball on Duke of Gloucester Street.

Humble silver is transformed into gleaming artistry in the Silversmith's shop.

Humble silver is transformed into gleaming artistry in the Silversmith's shop.

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Colonial silversmith required talent of an artist

The 18th-century silversmith was thought of as someone akin to a sculptor. Both had to know how to shape their materials with artistic talent, taste, and design.

A contemporary observed that the silversmith was:

"employed in making all manner of utensils . . . either for Ornament or Use. His work is either performed in the Mould, or beat into Figure by the Hammer."

Consider the fashioning of a coffeepot. The silversmith melted sterling in a graphite and clay crucible to about 2,000°. He poured the liquid silver into a tallow-greased, sooted cast-iron mold to produce an ingot. Using a large hammer, he would hot-forge the ingot into a billet – a thick sheet that he would then cut into a circle. Using "raising" hammers, anvils, and stakes, the smith would stretch the piece of silver into a thinner piece as he hammered against the anvils, cupping it into a bowl shape.

Forming sheet of silver into bowl required experience and skill

Hammering the bowl shape against the stakes the silversmith "raised" the body shape by compressing the metal with hammer blows from the outside pushing it inward and upward. When the silver became brittle from working, he heated it red hot and plunged it into an acid bath to keep it malleable. When the smith achieved the body base and lid shapes he wanted, he used small smooth-faced hammers and other stakes to "plannish," or hammer them very, very smooth. The handle sockets, spout, and finial were cast in halves in sand and the two matching pieces were joined with solder. The finished product was polished to a high shine with pumice, rottenstone, and jewelers' rouge. The wooden handle was pinned into the sockets of the gleaming piece, and the coffeepot was complete.

Practiced hands create an ornate piece.

Practiced hands create an ornate piece.

This elegant copy of a mid 18th-century sauceboat was crafted at the Golden Ball in Colonial Williamsburg using 18th-century silversmithing techniques.

This elegant copy of a mid 18th-century sauceboat was crafted at Colonial Williamsburg's Golden Ball using 18th-century silversmithing techniques.

Silversmithing today

Today the work of the silversmith proceeds at Colonial Williamsburg's Golden Ball silversmith shop in much the same way as when colonist James Craig practiced silversmithing there and when James Geddy Jr. practiced the trade at the James Geddy House.

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