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Diary of a Silversmith

Tusk Silver Trophy

A local engraver to us, Steven Alexander, asked if I could fit an additional silver plate to the above mentioned trophy. Commissioned in the 1950's it had run out of space to engrave further winners names. Quite a bizarre object, it appears to be made from a hollowed out top end of an elephants tusk with the handle made of what looks like Rhinoceros horns. A glass bottom enabling it to be used as a mug. The making of an additional plate was quite tricky given that the only means I had of fixing it to the tusk was dress making pins which although good at driving into the wooden plinth. They really were reluctant to hammer into the ivory tusk. Pilot holes needed to be drilled but this in itself was problematic as the material was so hard and the drills so fragile being only 0.4mm in diameter. A three feet diameter arc had to be scribed onto the silver sheet prior to cutting it out. This enabled it to fit snugly onto the slightly tapered tusk. I got there eventually! It took just short of a day to do but I had only quoted one and a half hours C'est la vie!  

Precious Metals - Conservation

As a Silversmith I am, and always have been, careful not to waste any silver or gold which I handle on a daily basis. In common with others in the industry, we cut, file, saw, grind, turn and polish precious metals. All these processes could lose some of the precious metals never to be seen again. In our case the clean cutting we collect to use at a later date for our silver castings. The less clean (which could have some oil or dirt present) is collected and returned to our supplier for melt and assay. The fine silver element of this is then credited to our metal account with our supplier. Obviously there is a final very dirty category. Sweep. This is as it sounds floor sweep, contents of the hoover bag! and polishing residues. this bulky category is again returned to our supplier where it is first burnt to reduce its volume and the ash processed to remove the silver. There is no doubt a very tiny amount may escape our vigilance. A few grains walked out on the sole of the shoe, but by and large we trap the vast majority of what we buy in. Why? 1 It is expensive 2 I have my environmental head on I would like to see this done by every business and home globally. If all commodities were made valuable in money terms as well as resource terms nothing could or should be wasted. As once they are condemned to landfill sites they are almost impossible to recover. In my company and home every grain of so called waste has its own bin. Every orange pip, apple core or potato peeling goes onto the compost heap. Every tin, bottle and newspaper goes into the council recycling box and the remainder to landfill - not a lot I am pleased to say. However most of landfill is produced from unnecessary packaging. Society must return to the old days of less or no packaging.  When I was a lad all bottles and jars had deposits and were returned. Biscuits and eggs went into brown paper bags which went on the compost heap. Another of my gripes is the use of insecticides in agriculture - but I digress this maybe the subject for another blog!  

A Hallmark request

A few weeks ago I had an unusual request from a repeat customer. Did we have in stock something suitable for a belated Christening present? But it had to have the date letter 2015. I had a rummage through the safe and found three items and offered him a choice. One of the items was a Directors Whisky Decanter. We both agreed that this was a rather unusual Christening present but probably more useful (in later life of course!) than a baby rattle for example which is only useful during the early life of a child. On the other hand it could be passed from generation to generation??? However a Whisky decanter it was!  

Britannia Silver

I needed to order a considerable amount of standard (sterling) 925 silver sheet recently. After I placed my order the supplier informed me that they had insufficient in stock to fulfill my request. An alternative was to take some of it in Britannia silver (958). It is many years since I have used Britannia but to use it on this occasion would solve the problem. I knew it was softer so it should be easier to spin – in theory. Well this was the case. It was nice to spin, it seemed to be a more “slippery” metal than standard (925 copper alloy) which can feel a bit “gritty” and need lubricant. The Britannia needed less. It also “laid down” on the chuck quicker. The down side was that because it “laid down” quicker it was stretching less meaning it came up shorter on height. Ooops! Now what? 20 bases all a bit short. Luckily I had spotted this on an interim spin (draft) and was able to put it onto another chuck where I was able to gain a little height. Phew! Nearly got into trouble there but otherwise a very nice alloy to work with. Britannia Silver 958.   Co-incidentally, this was the main English Standard between 1697 and 1720 and because of its softness (in relation to 925 standard) it had to be reinforced in areas of weight stress, for example on a tea pot where the fittings attach. Spout, handle,foot and knob. This reinforcing was often decorative and termed “cut card work” and is quite distinctive. The said reason for this change was thought to be that it would defer the clipping of silver coins for the subsequent use of a source of bullion as the metal stolen could not be used without the addition of pure silver which was in short supply at that time. Just a few interesting facts about the life of a silversmith I thought you may like to read.

Silversmith's Speaker Stands

My training and life as a Silversmith have also given me the basic skills and confidence to tackle other projects. For example, when we bought a new sound system and television. It came supplied with contemporary light wood speakers. Co-incidentally the same colour as our Ercol furniture. Unfortunately we could not find suitable wooden stands for these speakers that would also match our furniture. I though it would be quite an enjoyable experience to make a pair. First I did a scale drawing, then sourced some maple wood (which is nice to turn) from our stocks and cut out the necessary blanks, two circles and a long baton.  Next I turned the three component parts, top, base and stem as seen in the picture. I then sanded them on the lathe and Colin polished them in our polishing shop using two grades of compound until they were perfectly smooth. Lastly a coat of wax was added.     And no! I am not making any others in case anyone asks!  

Out of Silver Egg cups!

In the morning at work we usually sit down for breakfast before we start the days work. It normally consists of half a grapefruit or a freshly squeezed orange followed by an egg of some sort with fresh bread from the local bakers and some homemade jam.  As we have limited cooking facilities the eggs are fried, scrambled, poached or boiled. We like to have a bit of variety. On a boiled egg morning it is often quicker to find something from the workshop rather than search for a proper finished Silver Egg Cup. Today it is a decanter top with a test engraving on it. Works well! Looks quite good too!   

Silver Coaster - a new addition

When I had the Chalice Claret Jug re-shot a couple of years ago (both in the silver and in the gold version) I inserted a small coaster into the picture just as a prop, to get a bit of lifestyle. It had not occurred to me to that this shot may actually create a sale for the coaster. We have now had several requests for this particular coaster.     Unfortunately we did not make one of a suitable size! we have previously sold the middle size coaster from the "appetite" range which was not quite ideal, being a little too big and rather on the expensive side. Last week when a Claret Jug sold the lady requested the coaster to match but could not afford the above mentioned one so I bit the bullet and set about making one of exactly the correct size and thickness to come in at a suitable price. That evening when the workshop was quiet I prototyped one, did a quick costing £275 and put it to the lady the next morning. She said "yes" so the first one was produced and went off to the Assay Office for hallmarking. Not something I like to do too often as the minimum charge makes it quite expensive. However needs must on this occasion. The lady took delivery of her Claret Jug (which was to be presented to a retiring colleague) complete with prominent inscription and newly designed coaster. Delighted!!      

Figurine Restoration

Several weeks ago a neighbour who is moving to Devon came across and asked if I knew where he could dispose of a pair of figurines. He had one in his hand. I recognised them as made from spelter and probably French from about 1890. They were a bit scruffy - for want of a better description. I suggested he tried the antique shop at the top of the road. He said he had not thought of that.  One of the figures was a woman with arm held aloft holding a hammer encircled with laurel leaves. That is it should have been but the arm was broken off. I offered to solder it back on for him in order to get a better price. Whilst I had the figure in my Brentwood workshop I grew to quite like this figure  and repaired it very carefully. When I saw the partner figure this was of a man standing in the stylised bow of a ship holding the ships wheel with one hand and a pennant aloft with the other . That was it I really felt I would like to have them for myself.  I asked the neighbour if we could have first refusal. He said yes but after he had obtained a more accurate valuation. Clearly this pair needed some attention to restore them to their former glory. A quick look on the internet indicated that they were French and a pair called Le Industrie and La Commerce. They will need new plinths making as the originals have had a bad case of woodworm and need new name plates attaching. More to follow after the restoration!! For now here is a picture as they look at present.

A Silver Adorned Sword Stick

I never know what will come into the workshop next!! This weekend brought a very unusual repair. As well as manufacturing we offer a repair service for any of our own products and a more general service to anyone needing help with a silver item. On this occasion it was a silver adorned sword stick brought in by a gentleman. He requested that we try and return it to it's former glory as some parts were very badly dented. Another interesting fact was that although the feral on the stick had an English hallmark from 1900, the actual sword had been made in France. In order to make a decision on how to proceed I had to fully assess the job. This involved in the first instance gently heating the knob to melt whatever substance was attaching it to the wood. As it turned out it was held in place by cutlery cement which is mainly a natural resin base and so melted quite easily.After the knob was taken off I melted the remainder of the cement out and examined it inside. I need to see how it was made, check the thickness of the material to finally decide how to proceed. What I found was the silver was reasonably thick but there was no way I was going to be able to get any tools inside in order to push out the dents which were the main problem. So what to do next, based on my findings I decided to cut the top off completely, allowing me to remove a few of the dents and then to make a completely new end cap. This was done using the spinning method which I describe fully in many of the pages on my website. All went to plan and then it was just a case of carefully soldering the two components together using silver solder, fettling the seam and giving it a final polish. To complete the repair the silver knob was filled with molten cement and the sword stick end pushed firmly into place. One final visit to the polishing shop and all looking good again. A satisfied customer once again.  John Campbell  

Pepper Mill refurbishment

Six of our Sterling Silver Capstan Pepper Mills recently came back for a refurbishment from a retailer in Oxford, England. They were owned by one of the local colleges. Although in surprisingly good condition, in that there were very few dents, they had some structural problems mainly surrounding the aluminium drive shafts. These were corroded which had caused three of the finials to seize on and so breaking the threads off. After a complete dissemble, three new knobs, six new spindles and a good ultrasonic clean and re-polish they looked like new again. Question: How did the aluminium spindles become corroded? I suspect they have been allowed to get and remain damp, probably from a dishwasher. Tip: If a dishwasher has to be used ensure the cap and knob are removed and these parts stood on absorbent paper in a warm place such as the top of a central heating radiator or boiler for a couple of days to ensure all the hollow spaces are thoroughly dry. Give them a good shake to check before re-assembling. Repeat the above if any water drops are seen. If any users have any questions on the subject please give me a ring personally on +44(0)1277 217 829 John Campbell