RUMMAGING through the internet while researching new developments in silver smithing, I was intrigued to read about the history of this craft in Ireland, and how Charles I brought in the hallmark system as far back as 1637 for all silver sold here.
It was like an early piece of consumer legislation which not only protected skilled makers but ultimately led to Irish silver developing a reputation for quality.
Even more interesting is how looking at silver over the last 400 years gives an insight into Irish social life and influences at the time — which probably explains why there are so many silver chalices around.
While silver may have gone out of fashion for table use, not least because of the cleaning it requires, the last working remnant was probably granny’s teapot until the popularity of tea bag convenience made it redundant.
But there’s an industry still humming away nicely, producing objects of great skill and beauty with practical application too. It’s the sort of stuff that if you have a wedding coming up and want to buy a very special gift — one with heirloom potential — this is worth considering. It’s not a cheap option mind you: buying into a precious metal and long hours of making comes at a price.
In an age when couples are cohabiting and where singletons have their own homes, it’s hard to come up with a desirable gift without the risk of doubling up on something already owned or given. Wedding gift lists are really very practical and take the leg-work out of shopping and choosing, but it can be a bit impersonal and take the surprise element out of giving. And let’s face it, the days of a matching toaster and kettle being appreciated are long gone.
A piece of Irish silver made to a specification is the sort of thing a family or a group of friends could box in to buy. Something useful rather than a pretty dust gatherer is the way to go, so consider a bowl, cruets or cutlery. The recipient may not use them every day but can take them out on special occasions. So consider whether or not they are house proud domestic gods or goddesses, (who us lesser mortals can only aspire to imitating), and whose home is the perfect backdrop for one of these prize pieces.
The Crafts Council of Ireland has a list of their silver smith members at www.ccoi.ie where you’ll find links to their websites and images of some of their work, their style and indicative prices. Like anything custom made, price is determined according to the complication or simplicity of the piece in terms of making and the materials being used together. Like anything bespoke you can always offer a budget, and this applies not just to silver but anything that is handcrafted.
With silver pieces expect to pay anything from €100 up to several thousands, but remember these can appreciate over time, at worst holding their value, which can’t be said for a lot of so called investments at the moment. Craft and design are in hot pursuit of the values currently fetched by art, and some areas are matching and even surpassing them. Keep that in mind.
* Next week it’s summer linens for a fresh, optimistic outlook indoors.
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