Silversmiths Handbook by George E. Gee, 1885

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This 1885 book (republished in 1921) was written by George Gee, a real hero of the trade for decades, a pioneer in writing for the jeweler, the goldsmith and silversmith. You can tell that the author ran an excellent working shop – the voice of experience is abundant. The book begins with a discussion of the silver price between 1870 and the end of the century, its effects on society and working silversmiths.

This book is intended as a thorough, complete reference for practical workers in the trade and those learning. It is to introduce science and and overall understanding of working with silver to the workman. It is very readable.

It is an exhaustive, excellent, wonderful book. The subjects covered are too numerous to mention – check the table of contents pdf that accompanies this review.

The book gets into gear with fine silver and its basic metallurgy. This is accompanied by history and stories, different cultures who link silver and the moon, magics of various kinds. Great stories for jewelry store staff and goldsmiths to use and know. The information is pretty accurate as it is observation based. Sources and volumes of silver produced are described, an example is: “the discovery of another mine in the United States, at Nevada, of considerable richness, which has yielded enormous supplies, we shall not be far wrong in pronouncing the silver mines in the State of Nevada to be the richest in the whole world.”

There is an extensive chapter on techniques of assaying, refining and isolating silver from mixed alloys. This is an essential understanding for the goldsmith, and remains accurate today. The descriptions are vivid with biblical quotes and evocative explanations.

The chapter on alloys is thorough, and individual metals are well described, including alchemical ideas and history, what the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians believed.

The author is in love with filigree: there is a chapter on it with pithy comments on the different countries where it is made. Extensive technical notes make this the deepest discussion of filigree making I have seen.

Many manufacturers made objects with low silver contents to avoid the trouble of having the items hall marked – the British system was still in the process of being fully implemented. Interestingly an ounce of silver was about the buying equivalent of $ 32 today (one shilling was worth about $ 8.00 in today’s value for buying power) French, German and British alloys and standards are listed. There is a great chapter on silver solders, dozens of extensive recipes and instructions (as with all these old books you need to understand safety before trying some of the recipes – some are very dangerous).

Melting, crucible materials, handling and fluxes are well addressed, including which fluxes remove which impurities and foreign metals from a melt. There is more information on fluxes than any other book I am aware of.

Further chapters deal with rolling (which was done by steam-powered rolling mills by service companies), security and theft issues and all manner of working the silver. Wire drawing (including the fact that some drawplates were not hardened) is described. Bezel making, snarling iron use, pitch recipes and making, the history of industrialization in silversmithing, stamping, press work, hollow construction, spinning, abrasive work, polishing (mostly done by women), depletion silvering, pickling (including inserting the work into a large lime), chemical plating (and recipes), electroplating (and recipes), making batteries, scratch brushing, burnishing, oxidizing and coloring. There is a section on making white metal alloys of all kinds, tons of recipes, many with some silver in them.

A chapter goes in depth into metal conservation, especially important now as silver prices rise. Recovery from waste water and liquids is covered. Mandatory license fees and duties on silver article are outlined, as well as the history of it ending in an impassioned demand that the discriminatory taxes be revoked, as they were not applied to any other field of work. Finally there is a section on tips, tricks, alloy recipes, cleaning, plating recipes, testing metals, aluminum solders, how to remove lead, tin and other materials from work.

An excellent book for the serious student of metals, history and silversmithing.

Charles Lewton-Brain© 2011

File Size: 8.43MB, 258 Pages