Silver “Fireball” Dinghy

An enthusiastic fireball racing sailor asked if we could clean up his model silver dinghy. He lived nearby and so I asked him to bring it in for an appraisal.

When it arrived it was quite black through many years of tarnish. Not only did it need cleaning (which would involve dismantling it) it also needed protecting from any future tarnish.

Boat 2

One of the best ways of protecting such an intricate piece of silver from tarnishing is to electro-plate the article with Rhodium. The problem with this is that the rigging (running and standing) was fine wire which would be difficult to handle once Rhodium plated. So I chose white gold as the best material for the rigging.

We agreed a price and then I set to work dismantling the dinghy into its main components. It was then sent away for Rhodium plating. Upon return it was re-assembled and re-rigged using the white gold wire.

Boat done1Boat done 3







Result: a nice clean shiny dinghy fully protected from future tarnish.

Another satisfied customer!


A serious consideration – to engrave – yes or no?

If the item is a present for say a wedding, a retirement, a christening, a birthday, even as a thank you then a short message is a must. Not a great long rambling story, just a few words and probably a date.

If you own a super yacht, hotel, restaurant or just an exceptional home you might like your family crest, logo or ship’s name engraved on said piece/s

If the piece is for your own personal use and enjoyment then the choice is yours – probably do not engrave.

Our engravers Stewart Morris for the silver and Richard and Monica for the crystal are all experts in their fields. They can advise and will bring to attention any spellings which they suspect are incorrect and advise on size, placement and layout of the engraving required. Both firms can re-draw (if necessary) from existing artwork into digital format.

Several items from JA Campbell are used as trophies and have been customised by engraving. Indeed we supplied Grand National trophies several years ago. The Zetland Gold Cup was made by JA Campbell.

Two Diana’s – Goddess of Love!

I have been a brasssmith this week. An antique dealer found me via an Internet search probably deciding that a silversmith was the best person to make some missing bits on two figurines that he had bought. In this case it was a bronze of the Greek goddess Diana who standing on one leg on a rock should have been holding a bow aloft. Unfortunately the bow was missing.

Enter the Silversmith. The bow should be in two parts, either side of her hand and held in place by screw threads. Apparently last week he bought another of the same at auction with, would you believe, her bow missing too.

In theory the second bow should be easier to make than the first but who knows I have not seen it yet.

I must say though I do enjoy a challenge!

Silver Tumbler Cups

It is really strange how things seem to go in cycles. I never can judge how certain items will sell. Even looking back at sales history data the patterns do not seem to be there.

The only one that is consistent is that things seem to come in groups. Take the current rush on silver tumbler cups!

Just after Christmas 2 sets sold, last week 2 medium sized ones, this week followed up by yet another sale, more questions and a viewing visit later in the week – all interested in tumbler cups. No connection between any of them.

However “ours is not to reason why” and I am just pleased that they are being appreciated.

It is an unusual item that comes in three sizes. The history is that since the reign of Charles 11, circa 1660, they have been very popular drinking cups. They have often been used as travelling sets, in canteens and before that on board ship, as they will rock but will not fall over. The reason for this is that they are thicker at the base.

Being gold plated inside this opens up the present buying opportunities to cover Silver and Golden weddings!

Really they are ideal for a present on any occasion and are highly suitable for engraving with names, dates, messages to mark the occasion and bring back happy memories for the recipient.

Have a look and see if you can think of an occasion coming up where you could give one or a set to someone you know. All sizes in stock as of today.

John Campbell

Master Silversmith 

London Assay Office Tour

On Monday I was fortunate enough to be given a tour of the London Assay Office hosted by Mr David Merry. I have known “Dave” as I call him for many years as he is currently the longest serving member of staff.

Dave took us around the Goldsmith Hall Livery areas first, including the Court Room where the Court of Assistants meet (Board of Directors) and also the main function rooms. Then into the actual Assay Office starting where the packets are unpacked, counted, listed and details entered onto the computer. They are then placed into larger plastic containers for movement around the various departments. The original packaging is reused when the items are completed and ready for return to the customer.

The scraping process (drawing) is not the most frequently used method any longer. Instead most items are now x-rayed to check the metal composition. The result gives a list of the all metals the item contains and the percentage of each metal. These days, in the case of standard 925 sterling silver, the contents would be just silver and copper. Going back 100 years or so it would contain other metals including Gold and Zinc.

Modern gold alloys might contain more than two elements.

Laser marking: The only part of this process of which I was unaware is that marks burnt into the surface of silver do not have to be black. For if the article is given a last pass on low power the marks will change from black to bright. This recent development was I understand invented by Sheila, who heads the laser marking department.

The UK Hallmarking procedure is one of the best and earliest examples of consumer protection. Initially started in Europe it was perfected and refined in England.

Many thanks to Dave Merry and the Assay Office staff for an interesting and informative experience.

Apparently there is a service provided which allows customers to watch their own article being tested and hallmarked. This is arranged by the manufacturer, in this case JA Campbell. Please contact John on 01277 217829 for further details.

Another silver chalice renovation

Although I do not actually seek repair work, the previous blog telling an interesting story about a silver chalice repair has attracted another one. Not realising someone may type in silver chalice repair and find the original story.

The latest chalice repair is a little similar in that both were damaged in their bowls. This second one has an 800 silver bowl on the top of an ornate brass stem and base and is of Italian origin.

All three parts are soldered together. The tricky bit is that the damaged 800 bowl is quite thin and age hardened making dents, folds and wrinkle removal dificult. It will need to be annealed (making red hot) before this can be attempted. The only trouble is the bowl has a threaded stud lead soldered to the bottom to hold it into the stem. This with all the lead solder will have to be completely removed before annealing. This is because lead and silver will start to ammalgamate when the silver becomes red hot.

Once the annealed, the bowl can be fitted into a temporary wooden chuck on a spinning lathe and the dents and wrinkles “spun out.” This process will put some hardening back into the piece. This time, “work hardening on completion”, the threaded stud can be lead soldered back onto the bottom of the bowl.

At this stage the owner had specified that the bowl be hard gold plated and the ornate stem and vase silver plated. No problem.

Following on from the plating process, final assembly, and dispatching – hopefully another satisfied customer.

Visit for more pictures and interesting descriptions of how we make things!

John Campbell

Master Silversmith

Reorganising the Silversmith workshop

After 5 years now in our new ‘rural’ workshop location in Brentwood, Essex it was time for a minor workshop reorganisation. Sometimes you need to live with a situation for a while to know what is best.

It all started with bringing a new bench into position. This had been stored following the closure of my son Paul’s casting workshop some years ago. It was a good quality one and could not just be put in the skip. Landfill is not my way of thinking as those of you who read my blogs will know by now!

To continue, as it tuned out various existing benches had to be moved to new positions to make the best possible use of the space. It was plan A, plan B, plan C………….  We got there eventually.In the process, of course, it was clean as you go, this meant a lot of silver grindings and filings were found behind and underneath things and all placed in the appropriate containers for re cycling.

The new layout has made the walkway between the office, polishing shop, silversmith workshop and spinning shop easier to navigate. It also made it easy to find everything again!!!!

Silversmiths have to turn their hand to many things in the course of the working week, not just making silver tableware.

John Campbell

The Tools of a Silversmith

When I first started as a Silversmith it was at the Central School of Arts on a pre apprenticeship course for 1 year. The course covered the main aspects of Silversmith practical design, history and engraving. My parents bought my starter set of hand tools necessary for all course participants. This consisted of a steel rule, dividers, square and piercing saw. My father gave me his tools which he handmade during his engineering apprenticeship which consisted of a surface guage, a pair of V blocks, odd leg dividers and several others.

When I finished the course at the Central School I started my own apprenticeship with a firm in Clerkenwell, London called Langfords. In common with other lads I wanted all my own tools (it made a boy feel like a man, even if he did not know how to use them properly.) Fortunately my Father worked at Beckton Gas works and they employed craftsmen from all the main trades in order that they could be self sufficient on all their maintenance. One of these tradesman was a highly skilled Blacksmith who forged, in steel, for me copies of a set of hammers belonging to my Master. What a fantastic job he made of these, using tool steel and hardening and tempering them afterwards.

Once the hammer heads were finished I bought the handles (shops are not allowed to sell them these days – ‘Health & Safety’!!!!!!!!) and fitted them on using little steel wedges to hold them in place. Throughout my career these have stood me in good stead. One thing that upset me though is that I lost, or someone pinched, my favourite ‘collet hammer’

At about the age of 26 while working in the Smith shop at William Comyns I was given the opportunity to re train as a silver spinner and the same process stated over again. NB Craftsmen do not like lending out their hand tools. I needed a set of spinning tools, these again were ‘homemade’ using silver steel rod, hot forged out at the working end, to slightly flatten and widen prior to grinding to a rounded surface one side and flat the other. This end, the business end was then polished, hardened and tempered and then even further polished to give a mirror finish. (Any mark or scratch will scratch the surface of the silver.) Then the opposite end was again hot forged into a square tapered point called a tange. This when forced into the hole on its wooden handle will prevent it from turning.

I was told by my foreman spinner that the wooden handles needed to be made of a springy species of wood. Living beside a railway track I found a discarded shunter’s pole hook. My Dad told me that this was made from ash-wood and would be springy. So I cut it in half (to make 2 handles), drilled one end to accept the silver tange and made and fitted a brass feral to prevent the handle from splitting at that end, a bit like a file handle or a wooden chisel handle would have.

Through out my entire career I have been making tools of one sort or another, some because it is just impossible to buy  for example a ‘joint tool’ This is for dressing the ends of silver tubes for making silver hinges. I only use it now for the tiny handle to base joining tubes on the Adam Claret jug.

Apart from the hand tools I have made, there are all the spinning chucks that are required to make all the ‘spinings’ we produce. These are in a variety of materials, sometimes wood, for one offs, sometimes brass for spinning larger quantities or duralamin (an Aluminium alloy) when weight needs to be reduced for large diameter chucks. I have been using steel more recently as the price of brass and aluminium has risen.

I have lost count of the hundreds of tools I have produced, but every one has a use!

On my website you will read descriptions of production methods and techniques that are used when making all the items in my collections. I hope you find it interesting.

John Campbell

Designer & Master Silversmith

The Apprentice Silversmith’s Other Duties

When I started my apprenticeship as a Silversmith, (having just completed a one year pre-apprenticeship course at the Central School of Arts and Crafts) I was fascinated with the new life I found myself in. Being in the company of ‘men’ as opposed to ‘boys’. The ‘men’ of all ages who formed the workshop silversmith team used to enjoy teaching not only the practical skills of the job, but also telling stories of life and the ‘good old days’ when the parents of the ‘boy’ as the apprentice was called had to pay the master for the apprenticeship.

This was still common practice until at least the early 1900’s. Recently I had the good fortune to be introduced to an old gentleman who had been a machine gunner in the First World War (he also had some fascinating tales to tell) His father had bought him an apprenticeship at Vauxhall Motors as an apprentice coach builder. Vauhall Motors were then still at their factory in Vauxhall, London.

This practice of paying the master for teaching the trade had died out completely until now when there seems to be the early signs of a revival of the practice.

During the time of my apprenticeship it was common practice to run errands for the men and make the tea etc. I was told (true or not) that in the old days the boy would sleep under the bench and also run errands. One of which was getting the pint beer mug (which hung from a large hook under the man’s bench) filled up at the pub next door. One of the errands I found most embarrassing was having to go to buy condoms from a discount stall in Leather Lane, which sold them cheaply. Another errand was to go to the betting shop to put bets on for the plater who assured me he could beat the bookmaker.

Boys would often be sent out on fools errands such as a jar of ‘elbow grease’ and can I have a ‘long weight/wait’. Much to the amusement of the men who couldn’t wait for the boy to return to have a good old chuckle as it reminded them of their early days in the trade.

What an introduction to the life of adults for a young and naive John Campbell!