Producing Silver Flatware by Hand
During one of our special events, Geoffrey Blake, a master silversmith, shared how Paul Revere worked. He heats and hammers the metal as Revere did in the 1700s, using many of the same tools that would have been found in Revere’s shop in colonial Boston.
Paul Revere melted sterling silver in a crucible at temperatures reaching 2,000 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.
To make a spoon, the silversmith begins with a solid sterling silver bar. He measures the bar against a template, and then notches it on the anvil using a hammer. These notches mark the break between the spoon bowl and the shaft. He then hammers (forges) 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 (annealed) 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. The process of firing the spoon tarnishes the metal, requiring that it be polished in the final stages. The spoon is then rehammered with a plenishing hammer to smooth out the rough forging marks.
After the shape of the spoon was hammered out, the bowl would be created using 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 involves 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.
Thanks to our friends at Old Newbury Crafters for providing this information.