Silversmithing is a big topic. While I have a few reservations about this book, my overall response is that it handles its content with thoroughness and detail. Let me deal with the shortcomings first.
By Rupert Finegold and William Seitz
Chilton, Philadelphia, PA
455 pages, 687 black and white illustrations, $35
For me the organization of the book was hard to follow. Particularly when so much material is being covered, logical development is crucial. As I read I kept encountering descriptions of tools and procedures that repeated similar passages from earlier chapters, leaving me with an ambiguous sense of having been there before. The book is divided into 44 chapters and each of these is broken into further subdivisions. This pigeonhole style contributed to my difficulty in progressing easily from one idea to the next.
I would have enjoyed a brief overview of the rich history of silversmithing and the wealth of examples such a review would occasion. I wish also that more attention had been paid to safety precautions. This is becoming a recognized obligation in textbooks; more should have been said. And finally, some of the tables in the appendix seem to me to have little practical use, while other information, like a bibliography and list of suppliers, is notably absent.
These shortcomings should not overshadow the value of Silversmithing. The authors have achieved the difficult synthesis of formal instruction with personal experience. A friendly heart beats beneath the written word, welcoming beginners and challenging advanced smiths. The last third of the book (where the authors seem to have hit their stride) is especially rich in practical advice that could only come from a lifetime of experience. It is conceivable that to a smith who has a specific problem, just the answers tucked in the last two sections would justify owning the book.
The photographs and especially the drawings get very high marks from me; they were consistently clear and helpful. I think the authors also deserve credit for recognizing the perimeters of their topic. The chapter of casting, for instance, contents itself with providing a glimpse at the techniques and concludes by flatly recommending that a silversmith employ a professional caster unless he has a special interest in that area.
I don’t think Silversmithing is a must for every metalsmith’s library. But then, I don’t think it was meant to be. It represents clearly the attitudes and techniques of the silversmith in contrast to the jeweler or metalsmith. This subtle difference is important and, as Finegold and Seitz point out in their preface, it is a distinction that is dissolving. In addition to being a practical studio aid, this book is a valuable historical benchmark of the art of the smith.