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
Current no. of professionals (main income) 1-5
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
1-5
Current no. of trainees
Current total no. serious amateur makers
Current total no. of leisure makers
Minimum no. of craftspeople required

 

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

  • Many of the traditional uses of copper (and brass and tinplate) have been replaced with plastics, or the technology has been superseded, making the trade redundant. For example copper (and copper-alloy) canteens have been replaced with plastic bottles, watering cans are now plastic, buckets are plastic, copper lanterns are now plastic torches etc. The everyday objects that were copper have gone from everyday life.
  • Copper bowls are still made in large numbers cheaply but using traditional methods in India, the Middle East and North Africa which means shops can carry large numbers of imported hand raised bowls at low cost which is almost impossible to compete with for UK based makers.
  • As the manufacture of copper utensils moved from hand beating (or machine battery) to deep drawing in presses or to just copper plating steel utensils, it has meant that new entrants to the craft have had to work out how it had been done and tools were needed.
  • 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

  • Siân Evans
  • John Wills – describes himself as a ‘brazier’ making replicas of historic cookware
  • Scott Robbie, Scotland

The UK’s pre-eminent coppersmith Sam Fanaroff BEM died in February 2019.

Businesses employing two or more makers:

 

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