Case making is no easy feat! Being a silver-smith is one of the nobler pursuits (in my opinion). John Norgate, my mentor and silver-smith extraordinaire, is one of the most spectacular people I have ever met (but I am probably biased). From the way he shuffles about to the way he always says “Ta!” as an exclamation of thanks.
I am endlessly grateful for his insight and encouragement throughout the making of the silver case.
I started out with .80mm silver sheet. The task was to transform this sheet into a case that would fit the automaton ship. Because the mechanism for the ship is an odd shape and as a conservator, modifying the mechanism in any way to fit the case is unacceptable, the case needed a very specific design. I decided to use existing screw holes in the mechanism plates and make a steel former that could be used to shape the silver sheet.
I based the shape of the case around other cases of the 19th century.
As this is the only known object of this type, the case could not be based off of other examples. I looked at small silver cases for the pocket. Many of these were covered in shagreen, a material historically used to cover portable compass sets , spectacle cases, and other objects carried by in the pocket. Shagreen is amazingly durable, being made from ray skin, and has been used in a variety of applications, from furniture to decorative objects.
Once I had annealed the silver several times and hammered it into shape, I had two cushioned shaped pieces of silver. These I soldered together and then cut what would be the lid.
I made the bezel for the mechanism in the bottom half of the case and soldered the pieces into place. After which, the aperture for the ship and scenery was soldered to the inside of the lid.
The next step was the reeded wire. Cases of this period sometimes had a reeded wire that followed the lid of the case and joined the hinge at the back, making the hinge invisible. While this seemed ambitious, I am always committed to quality and love a good challenge. I took a strip of silver and hammered it into a circular shape, and then soldered the two ends together. This was put on a box wood former and turned on the lathe with a modified file.
Taking an old file, I annealed it, filed out the profile I wanted the wire to have, hardened it again and used it as a graver to cut the silver down. I then soldered the wire in place.
Following this I made the hinge from silver tube, drawn down with candle wax and a brass pin, to the appropriate diameter. These were cut into knuckles and soldered on both the top and bottom part of the case and onto the reeded wire.
Many hours were then spent on cleaning, polishing, and finishing both the inside and outside of the case.
The real challenge now came. I needed to drill blind holes in the case for the winding bezel and start stop buttons. I won’t reveal how I ended up doing this part, but I will say it included lots of double sided tape!
I took the case to the books department at West Dean College and approached my friend and talented colleague Abigail Uhteg. I asked if she wanted to collaborate on the covering of the case. I researched some shagreen distributors in London and chose an appropriate color for covering the case. Abby took it from there. I won’t reveal her secrets, but she does a fantastic job of leading you through the process of how she covered the case in her post Shagreen Covering for a Silver Case.
Once the case was covered I added the winding bezel and start stop button and a hinge safety lock. The winding bezel and safety lock were made to mirror the style of the readed wire.
I then finished the case with the addition of some beautifully faded 19th century blue silk provided by the owner.
In went the completed ship and mechanism – and voila!
I will cover the work on the ship and scenery in a later post, but for now I am off to pick up a few treats for my cat Baxter. He’s been pretty good this week 😉
10 thoughts on “The Silver Case for the Automaton Ship”
The combination of artistry and intellect on display here is nothing short of incredible; I find these blog posts riveting, they satisfy a deep need to see the past honored, to watch people with impeccable skills, and provide the pleasure of exploring the details of a world you never knew existed; it’s a heady combination of makeover show – with a beautiful star and her cat sidekick – plus history lesson, plus beauty and magic. Bravo!
Holy smokes what a compliment! Thank you so much, I’m blushing and so is Baxter.
Vous etes incroyable!
A lovely read…and then Baxter!
He’s so spoiled! But is amazingly agile- he never breaks anything (which is unbelievable given all the glass and fragile objects I own), for which I am eternally grateful.
J’ai lu ton article avec passion ! Signé, ta collaboratrice.
Merci cher ami!