If Paul Revere, the legendary silversmith and revolutionary patriot, were to time travel to the year 2017, almost everything would look wildly futuristic to his colonial sensibilities. But there is a place where he might feel right at home: in a tucked-away basement in Amesbury that holds one of the North Shore’s best-kept secrets, Old Newbury Crafters, which makes hand-forged sterling silver flatware using many of the same tools and techniques that existed in silversmith shops in the 1700s. It’s a place where slender sterling silver bars become nearly any piece of flatware you can imagine, from soup spoons to marrow spoons, salad forks to fish forks, bread knives to cheese knives, and even pieces that have fallen out of fashion, like muddler spoons, and dozens more exquisite choices in 25 different patterns.
“People really appreciate the way it was made and how it looks,” says master silversmith Geoffrey Blake, who has been making these exquisite pieces for 46 years. The flatware made by Old Newbury Crafters has beautiful handmade details, like marks that show the rich texture of the forging. Unlike machine-made sterling silver pieces that are rolled out to a uniform thickness, the thickness throughout a piece of handmade flatware varies to enhance its strength and beauty. For instance, the silversmith might create a thicker rim around the bowl of a spoon or ensure that a piece’s strength is concentrated in the shank of a handle.
The pieces also vary in style and custom touches. Discerning clients might get their initials or monogram hand-stamped onto each of the pieces. Blake remembers one New Jersey client who ordered 32 place settings with 25 pieces in each setting. The finishing touch? The family crest. It’s no wonder that the flatware from Old Newbury Crafters is a favorite of celebrities, magnates, and dignitaries.
It’s been that way for decades. The company was founded in 1915, and more than 100 years later, Old Newbury Crafters is still adding to its long, illustrious history.
“New England really was the headquarters, the hotbed of silversmithing in this country,” Blake says.
The hand-forging process is labor-intensive and requires the hand of a practiced master like Blake. Using a five-pound hammer, he pounds a piece of sterling silver on a steel-capped anvil until it’s the same length and width as whatever template he’s using. He uses a die to forge a design on the tip of the handle; some that he uses are from the early 20th century. Because silver actually becomes harder the more it’s hammered, halfway through the forging process, Blake uses a torch to fire it to about 1,100 degrees, turning the silver a bright cherry red and softening it, before quickly quenching it in a bucket of water.
“Sterling silver, unlike iron or steel, the more quickly you cool it, the softer it will be,” he says.
He uses a smaller hammer with a rounded side to smooth out the forging marks and a bench sheer (a machine that has a stamp on it dating it to May 12, 1885) to trim the excess silver, before trimming and sanding the piece to the exact size of the template. He hand-stamps three marks on the back, including his maker’s mark, a unicorn. Next, he uses a foot-operated wooden and metal machine with a drop hammer, which dates from the mid-1800s, to shape the bowl of the spoon.
“There’s nothing modern or computerized about this thing,” Blake says, as he slips his foot into a loop of rope that’s attached to the hammer, pounding it up and down to shape the bowl. Finally, at the bending bench, Blake bends the spoon into a graceful curve, laying it down on a table to make sure it sits exactly the right way.
“It takes a lot of learning,” Blake says. “Many times in my apprenticeship, I wondered if I would ever get it right.” Now, though, it’s second nature to him.
After more than an hour of meticulous work, this single piece still isn’t done. It still has to be finished and polished in yet another long process. But for people who love the look and feel of beautiful hand-forged sterling silver, it’s worth it. And it’s worth it for Blake, too.
“I just really enjoy making fine silver,” he says.
Old Newbury Crafters
36 Main St., Amesbury, 978-388-4026