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Silversmith Plate I, Denis Diderot

Denis Diderot. "Argenteur" [Silversmith]. "Recueil de Planches, sur les sciences, les arts liberaux, et les arts mechaniques..." Vol I. 1771.
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

This print of an engraving shows a silversmith in his workspace. Notice the woman working at the table. Women were occasionally, but rarely, silversmiths, but it was not uncommon for wives to assist their husbands in their shops. The other workers in this illustration are most likely also family of the silversmith, or apprentices hired by the silversmith to assist him in exchange for learning the trade. Silversmiths in the eighteenth century made goods such as tableware, candlesticks, and decorative items by melting down silver and cooling it in molds, hammering, twisting, and engraving it. The figures marks in this illustration correspond to drawings of the tools used in the trade.

The "Recueil de Planches..." is the first volume of illustrations of the supplement to Diderot's Encyclopedie, a famous 28-volume work published between the years of 1745–1772. It contained within its many pages Enlightenment ideas, and its mere existence attests to one of them: that education and knowledge should be for all. The editors of the Encyclopedia—Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d'Alembert—aimed to summarize all the achievements and theoretical knowledge of mankind. The resulting volumes are especially valued today for the information they provide on eighteenth-century life, particularly the sections detailing historic trades.


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