There certainly is a lot to love about the silver of the American Arts & Crafts movement – the glimmer of a beautiful hand hammered finish, the impressive weight of a piece hand wrought out of thick silver, the variety of innovative designs.
But what I find most interesting and most appealing about this movement is the fact that these wares were
individually hand crafted by some of the most talented artisans of their day. In a world
where we are constantly surrounded by cheaply made, mass produced goods, we could all stand to appreciate the beauty of a fine piece of hand crafted silver!
The Arts & Crafts Movement arose in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. Advances
in technology had transformed the silver industry, allowing silver companies to produce
many identical items flawlessly and efficiently. Elaborate borders and decorations could
easily be cast or stamped out by machine in a fraction of the time that it took a craftsman
to do it by hand. As a result, knowledge of traditional handicrafts languished.
While many applauded these technological innovations, others were concerned by the
decrease in quality. Frank Gardner Hale, master craftsman and one of the founders of
the American Arts & Crafts movement, expressed the unease shared by many of his
fellow craftsmen in this way: “Unlike the machine, the craftsman is producing quality;
the machine gives us quantity but seldom quality…With the advent of the machine which does everything for us and is working mightily to deaden our appreciative senses, we are accepting its wonders without thought, and we are in danger of losing our vision.” Hale and others like him sought to preserve the artistic vision of the silver trade, producing simple, functional designs of the finest quality.
If the idea of owning or collecting a piece of hand wrought silver interests you, there are
a few things to keep in mind.
Take some time to familiarize yourself with the important makers of the movement
and their unique styles. Chicagosilver.com is a great place to start. It includes biographical information on the prominent makers of the American Arts & Crafts movement, as well as pictures of their marks and photos of their work. Many pieces of Arts & Crafts silver, particularly jewelry, went unsigned, so it’s important to know what to look for.
Pieces of Arts & Crafts silver are generally very heavy compared to their machine-made
counterparts. This means that when the price of silver goes up, many of these pieces
go to the smelter. For this reason, large pieces of Arts & Crafts silver such as tea sets
and trays can become more scarce and more expensive when silver prices are high.
Fortunately some of the most beautiful silver to come out of the Arts & Crafts movement
are smaller pieces such as brooches, rings, and enameled bowls. These pieces are more
reasonable in price, easier to store, and showcase the same wonderful craftsmanship and
attention to detail as a larger piece. By starting small and expanding your collection as
your knowledge grows, you can assemble a variety of quality pieces without breaking the