This article reviews two great books “Practical Casting: A Studio Reference” and “Jewellery of the Ancient World” published in the 1986 Spring issue of the Metalsmith Magazine.

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Practical Casting: A Studio Reference
by Tim McCreight
pb, spiral-bound, available from Brynmorgen Press, Box 405E, Boylston, MA 01505, $10.95 plus $1.50 shipping

Casting is as old as metalwork itself. Up until now, there has not been a truly comprehensive book on casting jewelry, that is, a book written by and for professional craftsmen. Tim McCreight’s latest book may well have been worth the wait.

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With three other books under his belt, including his extremely successful. The Complete Metalsmith, McCreight provides the answer to a jewelry caster’s dream. Using his trademark homespun style, the author has written a top-notch book on casting and the allied procedures of spruing, investing, mold making, etc. McCreight has packed an awesome quantity of procedures, theories, tricks, tips and charts into his latest volume. He has also included a generous quantity of his own fine illustrations and a sprinkling of insightful proverbs to produce a handy workshop companion.

McCreight first explains the basics of casting and then goes on to a step-by-step approach to technique. Included are several esoteric yet valuable tips, such as how to make a spiral blade for sawing waxes by torch heating a conventional blade as you twist the ends. He describes how to add air vents to flasks for vacuum casting. He even presents a method for steam dewaxing a flask, rather than the traditional (and toxic, smoke-producing) kiln-burnout method. McCreight suggests intense scrutiny of the button from each casting. He states, “Observation of the button can give important clues about a casting [in order to] pinpoint trouble spots and figure out how to correct them in your next casting.”

In all, Practical Casting is a wonderful book containing nearly everything you would ever want to know about small-scale casting. It is an absolute essential for every contemporary craftsman whether casting the first or ten-thousandth piece.

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– Alan Revere

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Jewellery of the Ancient World
by Jack Ogden
Rizzoli, NY, 1982, hc, 185 pp.

We have all had the experience of being in a museum and wanting to reach into the case to take hold of a favorite object. As makers, we want to experience directly the grace of form. We want to figure out how it was put together. We can’t do that, at least not without being arrested, but in this marvelous book, Jack Ogden brings us the next best thing. With scientific precision and attention to detail he examines antiquities and explains their fine points. With the enthusiasm of an archaeologist he assembles a coherent picture of the ornament of the ancient world. The result is a sound scholarly tome that sparkles with unusual life and drama.

The author, founder of the British Society of Jewellery Historians, confines his book to the centuries from the beginning of the Bronze Age to the end of the Roman Period. Through photomicroscopic investigation and far-reaching cross references between documents, sculptures and artifacts, he shows us the methods and often the attitudes of our forebears. By coupling his personal analysis of many objects with a comprehensive knowledge of Classical and pre-Classical history, Ogden makes accessible to the reader the pleasures of a scholarly investigation.

Photos taken with an electron microscope show how wire was made before drawplates were invented and reveal unexpected facets of smelting and refining. As interesting as these bits of technical trivia are, they are only details of a larger picture of society. As Ogden says in his first chapter, “Jewellery . . . must be studied, like any other kind of archaeological remains, in the context of the people that fashioned it and the factors that led to its development and use.”

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An entire chapter is taken up with a discussion of forgeries and frauds, a practice that is apparently as old as jewelrymaking itself. For example, 2nd-century Romans liked to remount “ancient” gems and were often victims of fraud. Clues to the unraveling of these and other puzzles demand sophisticated chemistry, high-tech magnification and exhaustive research.

The book is a handsome production, featuring 37 color plates, most of them full page and none previously published. The photo quality is first rate and justifies the $50 price tag. This is a fascinating book for the metalsmith, the historian and the connoisseur of jewelry, I recommend it enthusiastically.

– Tim McCreight