A Trip to the Silversmith at Colonial Williamsburg

Where jewelers clad in petticoats and knickers hand-forge elegant pieces

Hear ye, hear ye!

This past week, I was treated to a trip to Colonial Williamsburg, Va.—the first English settlement in the U.S. Walking through the meticulously preserved historic district, the streets of which are lined with clapboard houses and storefronts with hand-painted signs reading milliner, apothecary, and the like, I was thrilled to see so many artisans actually creating gorgeous handicrafts. Yes, there are a gazillion actors dressed in bonnets and buckled shoes in Williamsburg—but there are also loads of real craftspeople there.

Handcrafted sterling silver brooches at James Craig Silversmith Shop

I’m not a history buff, but I adore anything handmade. And watching someone craft a plumed hat wearing full Colonial regalia is pretty much my dream activity. 

Of course I was drawn to the door of the James Craig Silversmith Shop. Inside, a handful of artisans (also in full Colonial garb) hand-forged silver brooches, bowls, and necklaces while we marveled at the shiny, rustic-feeling final products—and oohed and aahed over the piles of circa-19th-century jewelry tools scattered about.

We learned some things about 18th-century jewelry making, too. The Colonial silversmith was considered a visual artist—akin to a sculptor—who not only made baubles for fancy ladies and gents, but also crafted everyone’s bowls, utensils, and household items, such as coffeepots and shoe buckles.

Shaping a silver trivet…or acting like she is

According to History.org, there were 15 or 16 silversmiths in Williamsburg from 1699 to 1780, and most of them focused on household items and repairs, as there was a strong preference for British silverware and jewelry at the time. 

The costumed jewelry fabrication at James Craig is largely for show, but the shop is also a modern-day retailer, selling beautiful silver jewelry, flatware, and hollowware. It all makes for a delightfully trippy little visit.

Polishing a bowl while looking quite the part of a Colonial silversmith

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JCK Magazine Editor