Hand-Wrought Silver is the product of an art immemorially old. It is, however, little understood. A piece of silver showing hammer marks is not necessarily made by hand.
A hand-wrought silver piece is one which is “formed up” entirely by hand from flat “Sterling” of a suitable thickness. This silver is obtained from a refiner who has melted the raw silver, refined it to 925/1000 pure, and rolled it into sheets. The “forming up” is done over either wooden or metal stakes with wooden mallets and requires an accurate eye and a steady hammer blow. The silver is not hammered over or into metal forms the size of the object being made, as is sometimes supposed.
After the piece is formed the final finishing is done with a planishing hammer over a metal stake, both of which must be highly polished and without any flaw on the surfaces. Scratches or marks of any kind on a finished piece indicate rough tools or bad hammering. The planishing causes the hammer marks. These marks should be flat and fairly symmetrical. A good, steady blow is necessary, so there will be no unevenness. While the hammer marks should be fairly symmetrical, they should not show in even rows. They should, however, overlap one another, leaving no unplanished surface.
Machine-made silver is either stamped out by heavy power punches or spun into shape over forms in a common machinist's lathe, and is usually highly polished. Some of it, however, is planished to give it the appearance of being handwrought.
Inasmuch as the most expensive part of the work is done by the machine, it costs much less to produce this silver, as the original forms are spun up or stamped out in large quantities.
It is almost impossible to duplicate hand-wrought pieces, whereas in machine work thousands can be made from one form.
It should be borne in mind that in order to properly finish a piece of hand-wrought silver it must be planished, whereas in the machine-made pieces the planishing may be added to give the appearance of being hand-wrought.
Also, the machine has its limitations, and when a design is made for this kind of silver it must conform to these limitations. Not so with the hand-wrought work; the artist craftsman can make such designs as he wishes, knowing that by the skill of his hand he can form the piece into the thing he desires to create.
These objects possess greater artistic merit, hence the value of hand-wrought work.
R. R. JARVIE.
Source: An Illustrated Annual of Works by American Artists & Craft Workers - Artists Guild Galleries - Chicago - 1916