The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Coppersmithing (objects)

 

The making of objects from copper, including jewellery, sculpture, plates and cookware, dishes, tea and coffee pots, jugs, vases, crosses for churches etc. See the separate entry for coppersmithing (stills).

 

Status Endangered
Craft category  Metal
Historic area of significance  UK
Area currently practised  UK
Origin in the UK  Bronze Age
Minimum no. of craftspeople required  11-20
Current no. of trainees  0
Current no. of skilled craftspeople
Current total no. of craftspeople  6-10?

 

History

Coppersmithing in the UK dates back to the Bronze Age, with the production of copper goods for functional and decorative purposes.

Ornamental copperware flourished in the UK during the Arts and Craft movement. Coppersmithing as a hand skill began to decline during the wars as men and metal went to munitions and never recovered as a handcraft. It began to decline further in the 1970s when those working in the sheet-metal trade took on much of the coppersmith’s work leaving a limited trade for coppersmiths (primarily making copper pipes for use in plumbing and aviation). More recently, the global rise in the popularity of whisky has created a demand for authentic copper distilling stills made by coppersmiths in Scotland, although this is on a more industrial level. Today, a new market is emerging for bespoke hand-made copper linings for church fonts.

There had been centres of ornamental work in both Keswick, Cumbria, and Newlyn, Cornwall, each with a distinct style and places to study the craft. The skills of the tinsmith applied to everyday copper ware.

 

Techniques

The coppersmith draws on the skills of the blacksmith, silversmith, turner, spinner, sheet metal worker and tinsmith. Coppersmithing incorporates numerous techniques such as hand raising, hand blocking out, annealing, hand pierces, stone setting, panel beating etc. There are crossovers with techniques used by blacksmiths and jewellers.

 

Local forms

Notable styles of copper work appeared in Keswick, Cumbria and in Newlyn, Cornwall (primarily repoussé work).

 

Sub-crafts

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Market issues: The market is underdeveloped and people are hesitant to go into a career and craft that has a limited market. The market is developing but it does need someone or a collection of agencies to develop these markets.
  • Market issues: Time spent looking for markets (which do exist) takes time away from making.
  • Shortage of craftspeople: There is a lack of craftspeople, trainees and apprentices within coppersmithing. There are fewer than 12 people working with copper, and their skill level is not necessarily known.
  • Training issues: There is a desperate need to take on apprentices/trainees but there is a lack of funding to do so.
  • Perceived value of the craft: Makers will start working in copper and switch to silver because they realise they can charge higher prices because people are prepared to pay more for a higher value material (but not prepared to pay for the skills).

 

Support organisations

 

Craftspeople currently known

Other information

The Coppers Works Newlyn has been providing a free weekly class to local children for more than twelve years. The Copper Works is deeply committed to ensuring the future of the craft and establish a sustainable infrastructure to become a long term home for the craft of the coppersmith in the UK.

 

References

  • Berryman, Hazel. (1986). Arts and Crafts in Newlyn.
  • Bennett, Daryl and Pill, Colin. Arts and Crafts Copper Work in Newlyn.