‘A magnificent centrepiece’

The most extravagant piece in my collection is the ‘Epergne’. I have researched the web to find the most detailed description of this imposing sterling silver centrepiece.

This is what I managed to find.

An epergne generally has a large central ‘bowl’ or basket sitting on 3 or 5 feet. From this centre ‘bowl’ radiate branches supporting small baskets, dishes or candle holders. An epergne was traditionally made from sterling silver, however from the turn of the century it was also made from glass. There may be between 2 to 7 branches to an epergne.

This large table centrepiece may hold any type of food, and it may also be used as a designer object to hold candles, flowers or ornaments for a holiday. In traditional use it was a fancy way to display side dishes, fruit or sweetmeats.

The origin of the word is probably from French ‘epargne’ meaning ‘saving’, the idea being that dinner guests were saved the trouble of passing the dishes. Also ‘epargner’, to save, from French ‘espargnier’, of germanic origin.

The earliest record of an epergne is in 1725 and extant pieces date from the 1730s. In the late 19th century similar pieces, made largely of glass or porcelain and intended to hold flowers came into fashion.

My design is of a much simpler style in line with todays lifestyle and fits perfectly with my ‘appetite’ collection.

I always find it an inspiring moment when I put the finishing touches to one of these impressive centrepieces and often wonder how the proud owner will use it in their dining room.

 Please let me know if you have one and what is your favourite way of using it.

Please look at my website www.jacampbell.co.uk and let me know your favourite item

John Campbell

Design Enquiry

In one of my previous blogs I mentioned a request to make a sterling silver money clip as a present.

Something similar happened recently when I was undertaking a European sales tour. I was discussing the current economic situation, life in general and the differences in cultures in the different countries that I had visited in the last 3 weeks with one of my long established customers.

At this point we both agreed that walking was popular in most countries especially at weekends to relieve the tensions after a long busy week. It seems that countries like Austria and Sswitzerland have a tradition of taking a picnic basket along and sitting and enjoying the views with a cold meal and a chilled glass of wine.

Of course crystal wine glasses can be a bit risky to take on such an expedition. So to get to the point of my story I was asked if I could design a leather carrying case and 4 appropriate sterling silver beakers that would be of a suitable size to enjoy a glass of wine on these occasions.

I knew that I had a suitable sized beaker already in my collection, so I just needed to find a small manufacturer to produce the design I needed.

On my return to England I contacted a few people who I knew specialised in this type of  leatherwork and asked for a few samples. At present they have gone to my customer to see which one is the most suitable.

I will keep you posted on developments 

Glossary of silversmith terminology Part 2

As previously mentioned here is the second part of the information regarding terminology used in the silversmith industry.

Pierced work – the decoration cut with a chizel or saw. Piercing saws came in the late 1700s. It is a very fine blade set in a 3 sided frame, with the saw itself forming the 4th side of the rectangle. The saw is slipped through a drilled hole and then clamped into the top of the frame. The piercer can work only in vertical cuts with the silver being moved around the blade according to the pattern desired.

Planishing – the hammering of the silver, once it is in the required shape, that makes the surface smooth and the thickness of the piece regular; for this important task the silversmith uses a flat-faced hammer.

Raising – the normal technique of forming a hollow vessel from sheet metal by successsive rows of hammering on a woodblock, pushing, stretching and curving the metal simultaneously.

Reed pattern – a design composed of parallel convex elements, derived from classical columns.

Rococo – the generic title for 1700s style of ornament based on shell work and scrolls.

Spining – the practice, introduced by the Egyptians, of shaping an object while it is spinning on a lathe.

Stamped work – ornament produced by hammering from the reverse of the metal into a ready-cut die or mould. First mechanised in the late 1700s in the button and toy trade, stamping was next introduced to the candlestick industry in the late 1820s.

Sterling standard – the standard for gold and silver in the British Isles, instituted in the late 1300s and in force today. Only interuption to its continuity was the Britannia Silver standard, (1696 – 1720). The proportion in Sterling Silver is 925 parts in 1000. Sterling standard silver is more than twice as hard as pure silver and is much less subject to tarnish.

Thumbpiece – a device set above the handle to make the holding and drinking easier; the projecting part above the hinge of a covered vessel that makes it easy for the thumb to open the lid.

Turning – producing and forming a piece on a lathe.

Wirework – wires were cut into short lengths, fitted into holes and soldered into position; introduced in the 1780s, wirework was used in the making of epergne, tablebaskets and toast racks.

I hope this has been useful in understanding some of the processes that have contributed to the making of your silver.

Please look through my collection on my website

www.jacampbell.co.uk and if I can be of any further assistance please contact me

John Campbell

Glossary of silversmith terminology

Do you often hear a term used and wonder what it actually means?

I have tried to use fairly descriptive language on my website

www.jacambell.co.uk however I thought it may be useful to give a bit more detail on this page.

Assay – the test made by a local Assay office to prove the silver is of the required quality

Beading – a border of ornament composed of small half spheres resembling pearls or beads. Most popular in the late 1700s

Bright cut engraving – a form of engraving popular in the 1790s, in which the metal is removed in contrastingdepths, leaving a jewel like brilliance. the tool used is highly polished, one side picking out the silver, the other burnishing the cut side of the metal

Burnishing – polishing, by using a hand tool that contains a hard smooth stone or, in modern times, steel, traditionally a burnisher was used to remove planishing marks

Capstan – a popular shape for salt and pepper mills based on a hoisting or winching device, used on ships for raising the sails or the anchor

Chasing – the pushing of silver, using hundreds of variously shaped punches to a desired pattern, this can be done from the behind or in front

Engraving – flat line decoration cut into the surface of the silver with a special engraving tool, this was the usual method of inscribing crests, coats of arms, and the owners names

Finial – the small cast ornament at the top of a cover that became widespread in the early 1700s. acorn shape gave way to pineapple or flame in the Rococo period with the Urn shape predominant in the Classical period

Forged – to hammer into shape on an anvil while the silver is hot

Hallmark – the distinguishing mark of the Hall of the assay office at which the piece so marked has been tested. the mark for London is the Leopards head

Lost wax casting – the kind of casting that involves making a wax replica of the object, surrounding the wax with plaster of Paris or china clay, melting away the wax, pouring silver into the cavity left, and finally removing the plaster or clay mould

Makers mark (Sponsors mark) – the distinguishing mark of the individual silversmith, a control enforced in 1363. the early marks comprised of the makers initials set in a shield

I hope you have found this selection of terms useful and seen how they are associated with some items from my collection

I will continue this theme in my next blog to give you time to digest the ones I have explained so far

John Campbell