What Was Life Like for Colonial American Silversmiths?

A colonial American silversmith's life focused on acquiring silver, firing and hammering, and providing quality craftsmanship. Silversmiths, who often called themselves goldsmiths, sometimes had apprentices to help with their work.

Networking and community was essential for a colonial American silversmith, who had to remain active in his community to maintain his business. A typical colonial silversmith had an honest reputation and was involved in church, politics and clubs.

Acquiring unfinished silver was difficult for a colonial American silversmith, as America did not mine silver until 1852. Silver was obtained by customers trading silver coins or unfinished silver items once Great Britain placed restrictions on unfinished silver importation. Another source of unfinished silver came from the South American Spanish colonies.

Once an order was placed, an honest colonial silversmith melted the silver pieces in a 2,000-degree fire to separate the base from the silver. He poured liquid silver into a cast mold to create an ingot. The silversmith then molded, forged, hammered, cut and pulled the silver to whatever shape he needed, often firing the piece to keep it malleable. Final steps included branding the piece with his maker mark and polishing.

A colonial silversmith was known by his craftsmanship. He was known as an artist, much like a sculptor, with skill, talent and design. A silversmith had to produce various items such as silverware, cups, teapots, buckles and buttons, and anything else requested. As items were investments, quality work was necessary.

As silver was difficult to find, many silversmiths also worked as goldsmiths. Silversmiths also had apprentices to assist with the work and to learn the trade.