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Silversmith, Silversmithing

Silversmith, Silversmithing.  The craft and craftsperson of creating objects in silver, including medallic items; a branch of metalworking engaged by man since man began working in precious metals. Silversmiths (and goldsmiths) were the earliest jewelers. Their products were made to embellish the human form: rings, necklaces, crowns, earrings, broaches, bracelets, arm bands, and more. Some of these, like pendants, came close to a definition of medallic items. They were cast – or even diestruck – with relief devices and sometimes inscriptions. In effect, jewelers and precious metal smiths were the first medallists, creating not only the first medallic items but also developing the tools and technology for their manufacture.

The appeal of silver was in form and design. Form was the shape of the object and how it was used. Design was the ornamentation that could be added to the shape. Silver, by its precious metal status, by its ease of working and the polished beauty of the finished product, gave it great charm and appeal, and it was natural that silver medallic items were among the most appealing.

Silversmithing techniques.  Silversmiths employed the same tools and techniques used in making coins and medals until the revolution in striking developed by Matthew Boulton in 1790s. Silversmiths for 200 years prior to this were accustomed to casting in elaborate shapes; they found the flat round discs easy to manufacture, by either cast and chasing, in molds and hand working the casting, or by striking from engraved dies.

Silversmiths used annealing techniques to soften the silver metal after it became work hardened. hh They could do embossing or repoussé. They could apply decoration in addition to the decoration in the die by using silver solder to apply added design. They could do cut-card work and piercing. They could add design or lettering by engraving and finally they could do polishing to give the end product luster and shine. (All of these techniques are detailed in their own entries herein.)

Medallic silversmiths.  The most famous of the early silversmiths was, of course, Cellini

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excerpted with permission from

An Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Technology

For Artists, Makers, Collectors and Curators


Roger W. Burdette, Editor

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