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Silverware Artisans and Workers

History

People have used an interesting variety of eating utensils throughout the ages. Dishes, flatware, and cutlery of all kinds have been made from wood, bone, stone, volcanic glass, shell, and a number of metals, including silver, tin, gold, pewter, and stainless steel.

Shells were probably the first rudimentary spoons. Primitive forks were just sticks with sharpened ends. And the first knives, sharpened with bone, wood, or stone, were used not only for cutting food but for warfare as well. By the Middle Ages, eating utensils became ornately decorated and more developed, according to each of their required uses.

With the invention of electroplating in the mid-18th century, the silver-plating industry experienced enormous growth in the United States. The process, which involves coating inexpensive metals with silver, became a common method for producing attractive tableware.

Silversmiths of the day were regarded as sculptors of sorts. Able to shape materials into pieces both attractive and functional, these artisans created not only utensils but also bowls, creamers, teapots, pitchers, cups, and trays.

Paul Revere was perhaps the best-known silversmith in the United States. A number of other craftspeople also played key roles in the emerging silver industry in colonial America. James Geddy Jr., for example, sold a variety of items that both he and other artisans made from 1766 to 1777. These pieces included silver flatware and hollowware, such as teaspoons, tureen ladles, cans, and tongs. Geddy's brother-in-law William Waddill, another well-known colonial silversmith, provided engraving services.

Today, about 60 different kinds of craftspeople work in the industry, transforming silver, stainless steel, nickel, zinc, copper, and other metals into contemporary silverware. Regardless of the metals used, many of the steps in the silverware manufacturing process are essentially the same.

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