The task for today is to check the material (silver discs) arriving from Cookson Precious Metals and spinning 30 sterling silver claret jug bodies.
Once the spinning operations are complete the surplus material can be cut off. This will provide clean scrap which will go towards the casting grain which will be needed.
As a young man of around 22 years old and working for William Comyings as a silversmith I was asked by the then owner, Bernard Copping would I like to retrain as a silver spinner. Unsure of what to do I asked the opinion of some of the more senior craftsmen. They did not hesitate in their recommendations as spinners were known to earn double the money that silversmiths did.
I only spent about a year in the spinning shop and subsequently returned to the silversmithing shop. What the spinning experience had done was was to broaden my understanding of how metals move and behave. This had also introduced a fascination of metallurgy. I cherish the opportunity to chat to the metallurgists at Cookson for whatever reason and vice versa. I think that they like the opportunity to chat to the person who is using their metal.
An example in that I did not know how quickly standard sterling silver age hardens. I thought it took many years, 50 for example. This is because silversmiths or indeed spinners never or rarely get to use old material as it never sits around for long.
When I cam to use a piece of silver which had been in stock for some 10 years I was surprised to find it was hard and needed annealing (making red hot) before it would move.
Now at the age of 70 I never tire of my job, every day is different. Fascinating!!
As silversmith, proprietor and founder of JA Campbell I arrive at work in the mornings not sure of which role I am going to undertake that day.
Explanation: As the silversmithing industry has declined since its heyday in the 1800’s (when companies were large enough to be able to employ specialists) it has become less viable to employ all the specialists that silversmithing requires. Therefore the silversmith of today is required to be able to have the ability to undertake all the peripheral tasks necessary.
Silversmithing is my first and main skill which I studied at The Central School of Arts & Crafts, followed by a 5 year apprenticeship. But I have since had to learn the crafts of silver spinning, tool making, engineering, turning (metal and wood) enamelling, wood carving, design and marketing!
I have to say though from a personal point of view I quite like it this way, it means that there is never a dull moment and always a new challenge.
The most recent challenge was to make a round spinning (decanter mount) fit onto a sterling silver square decanter. I have to admit this did give me a couple of sleepless hours as a large corporate order depended on the success of this. I had doubts with my ability to make this happen successfully.
Then “Geronimo” on a Monday morning after a weekend off I decided “thinking the unthinkable” to try “doing the undo-able” I cut 4 corners out of the bottom of the silver top to try to accommodate the square corners of the flared crystal decanter neck. It fitted snugly first time and looked good! I lapped the 2 silver components together (decanter top and bottom) this is the role of the spinner complete. It was then polished and plastered onto the crystal body.
Outcome – different and pleasing to the eye and another satisfied customer.
This one relatively simple product had required me to wear 4 different hats, designer, toolmaker, silversmith and spinner. Life is never dull is it!!!
I took a completed taper component (but not yet bent) from the sterling silver wine funnel to Marlows and “asked” Lew, my friend and mentor, rather than try to describe it to demonstrate his bending method. He was happy to oblige.
Firstly, he put a tapered steel tool in his bench vice, and then using a small bent rod and wooden mallet- bashed the end (which was protruding off the top of the vice mounted tool) over, forming the start of a bend.
Immediately I spotted the potential with this method. I thanked Lew for his help and returned to my workshop. I realised I had to take Lew’s idea and build and refine it. So I set about making three identical steel tapered tools of different lengths which left progressively less overhang of the silver component.
It was just a case of using each tool in succession to control the bend using Lew’s bent rod and mallet method.
Life is never dull is it?
Last year, 2012, my square decanter supplier went broke! Starts up again, and asks for cash up front for the new order! I do not think so says I !!!! for obvious reasons.
The good news was that my long-term English supplier of all my round crystal (Dartington) had just started to run a square, but the bad news was that it was flat panelled at the neck making a snug fir for a silver collar “difficult”
New tooling was quickly produced but 4 unsightly gaps were present where the silver collar passed over the flat panels.
In frustration and desperation I decided to take a week off work for the Christmas holiday with the intention to come back refreshed and with a solution to this problem. I thought the unthinkable at the time. Why not try cutting and fitting the bottom edge of the round silver collar to fit snugly over the square flat panels? Downside, if this had not worked it would have spoilt the prototype and a different plan would have needed to be worked up, but, “yippee!” not only did it fit, it looked good. The sterling silver & crystal square decanter now sports a “pretty” shaped skirt.
At JA Campbell Silversmiths we have good stocks of most of our range, including around 8 silver & crystal sugar dredgers, casters and sifters as they are also known. But come a New Year family gathering, guess what? no means (other than a spoon) of sprinkling the caster sugar over the delicious homemade strawberry mousse. Shame on me!!!! It is a question of – don’t do what I do – do what I say.
I have for years been preaching the joys and importance of using silver at the dining table since the days when I had hair on my head. Trying through publicity to make people aware and then enthusing them into using silver more on the table.
The silver sugar caster is not an item you would generally use at every mealtime unlike the (sterling silver pepper mill) but nevertheless an item which is very efficient at getting sugar evenly distributed over your dessert without too much faff. One really should be kept at the ready for these occasions.
I think experience reminds me of the analogy of the shoemaker’s children, who were always the last to get a pair of shoes as priority was given to paying customers.
Enjoy using silver at every mealtime.