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June 1st 1584

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Perth's Hammermen

The Hammermen’s Incorporation of Perth embraced a whole collection of crafts including silversmiths, goldsmiths, clocksmiths and watchmakers, gunsmiths, locksmiths, blacksmiths and others. At the head of the organisation was the Deacon who was responsible, not only for the testing and quality of the articles made by the various crafts, but also for such matters as the employment of apprentices and the times and places of public selling. He had the authority to punish either by fines or in extreme cases by expulsion.

Another important member was the boxmaster or treasurer who had responsibility for ‘Saint Eloyis Box’, a wooden chest which contained money, valuables and securities of all kinds. As a rich and powerful organisation, the Hammermen were able to safeguard the interests of their group and also to provide welfare and education for the widows and orphans of their former members. This was considered to be an important aspect of their work.

From 1584 all transactions and business transacted by the Hammermen were recorded in the Hammermen’s Book. The book itself was provided by “William Lauder, burgess of Perth, as maister joynit with the Craft of the Hammermen as buik binder and pearchment maker.”  From 1589, the Hammermen had their own seats in the gallery of St John’s Kirk.

There are few records of the early work of silversmiths or goldsmiths and the unsettled political conditions of the time were not conducive to the production of fine silverware. It was not until the late 18th Century that there was something of a boom in the trade. Even so it continued to be strictly functional, plain communion cups, plain spoons and teapots with the minimum of decoration.

It was early in the 19th Century before more ornate work appeared. This came in particular from Robert Keay the elder and his nephew Robert Keay the younger who between them carried on business for sixty five years, until 1865. Other well known names were John Pringle, John Hogg, Charles Murray, John Scott, Charles Sheddon and David Greig the elder. But already there were two factors which between them were to kill the craft of silversmithing in Perth. In 1836 an Act was passed requiring all silver to be essayed in Glasgow or Edinburgh. This had the effect of concentrating production in these cities. Then by 1850 the new cheaper process of electro-plating took over much of the cheaper end of the market.

Perhaps the last successful Perth silversmith was David MacGregor who was active from 1860 until his death in 1908.

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