The Paul Revere House  
The Master Silver Smith at Work

 

Producing silver flatware by hand

Recently, we were delighted to host a demonstration by craftsmen from Old Newbury Crafters, the only North American company currently engaged in the commercial production of hand wrought silver flatware. While other silver manufacturers stamp out cutlery with machines, Old Newbury craftsmen heat and hammer the metal as Revere did in the 1700s. They produce their work utilizing many of the same tools that would have been found in Revere's shop in colonial Boston.

 

Paul Revere - Master Silversmith

Paul Revere melted sterling silver in a crucible at temperatures reaching 2000 degrees and then poured the molten metal into a cast iron mold. The silver bars produced from such molds were the raw material that the master silversmith would shape at the anvil. With heavy labor and a keen eye for style and design, Paul Revere, his eldest son, Paul Jr., journeymen and apprentices transformed these silver bars into cutlery, bowls and tea sets for some of Boston's wealthiest citizens.

 

Master silversmith Geoffrey Blake at work in the Revere House courtyard

Master silversmith Geoffrey Blake, of Old Newbury Crafters, began his demonstration with a solid sterling silver bar. He planned to make a spoon using the same methods that Revere would have used. He measured the bar against a template, and then notched it on the anvil using a hammer. These notches marked the break between the spoon bowl and the shaft. He then hammered (forged) the metal on the polished side of the anvil using a five pound hammer, shaping the metal to match the pattern.

Silver is a very malleable metal but, as it is forged, it hardens and must be heated by the silversmith in order to soften the metal so the forging process can continue. The metal is heated to a glowing red and then plunged into cold water. Geoffrey Blake showed examples of a spoon in process after it had been fired, noting that the process tarnishes the metal, requiring that it be polished in the final stages. The spoon was then rehammered with a plenishing hammer to smooth out the rough forging marks, leaving a subtle hammered texture that is the hallmark of hand wrought silver.

 

Geoffrey Blake and Donald Keith of Old Newbury Crafters speak to an intrigued audience

After the shape of the spoon was hammered out, Geoffrey demonstrated how the bowl would be created through the use of an iron weighted form that would be raised by a rope and then dropped from just the right height to strike the metal in the precise location. Several strikes of the weighted form would create the bowl. The next stage involved bending the neck and shaft of the spoon to just the right shape for perfect balance. This was accomplished by bending and pounding it against a block of hard maple wood. Maple is a surface that will not mar the silver. Next, the master silversmith would place his personal maker's mark on the silver and then file the piece, preparing it for the final finishing process. At the final stage, the spoon is hand polished to bring out the original luster of sterling silver.

Donald Keith, General Manager of Old Newbury Crafters, explained that the production of silver flatware, bowls and tea sets is a labor of love and a very time consuming craft. The company limits its production to 300 sets of flatware per year. He displayed many other wonderful items made by the craftsmen at Old Newbury Crafters, including cups, bowls, pitchers and a tea pot that Paul Revere would have certainly appreciated. The tea pot was crafted by Geoffrey Blake and involved 100 hours of labor.

Donald Keith and Geoffrey Blake review the many items produced by Old Newbury Crafters

We thank our friends at Old Newbury Crafters for a very educational demonstration. Their next appearance at the Revere House will be on September 16, 2000 from 1-4 p.m. Old Newbury Crafters can be reached by mail at 36 Main Street, Amesbury, Massachusetts 01913. Their phone number is (978) 388-0983. Request one of their full color brochures and rediscover wonderful craftsmanship in the tradition of Paul Revere. Old Newbury Crafters is looking for apprentices. If you are between the ages of 17 and 25 and are interested in finding about more about this opportunity, please call Donald Keith at Old Newbury Crafters, (800) 343-1388.

Photography by: Ben Edwards

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