When smiths (of both tin and copper) had new machinery available to them, the production of all tin and copper sheet products went up, unsurprisingly. By the 1850’s, the machines were being made in multiple quantities and without too much variance in price from the decade prior, so if you spent your life savings on one, you were likely going to have a piece of machinery that only went up in value as time marched along. Plus, you were able to make things a bit faster, make more of them, and sell more of them, so you were making more money anyway. Investment, much?
Still, the machines were dear – most of them costing a full month’s wages. If they broke, they’d need to be repaired by a blacksmith, as they were all made of iron. And they were heavy, thus tying a smith down more and more to one location, creating a pivotal change in the wandering days of most tin tinkers.
While the western regions of America still were pulling and changing and growing – and both stationary and wandering tin and copper smiths could be found, the east coast saw a deeper settling down in the trade, where larger shops were found in big communities, and goods were churned out at a rate that had never before been topped.
The machinery used for the creation of the cookware was (and still is!) as specific to one job as the stakes that came before them. As I mentioned in my previous post, stakes in a stake plate were used to create seams, edges, burrs and shapes in the sheet metal. There are a myriad of stake types – each for a very specific purpose – and the new machines were not much different in terms of specificity.
A burring machine created a burr. A setting down machine set down seams. A grooving machine put the grooves into the seams. A wiring machine…well, you get the picture.
Another change was that after the American Revolutionary War, larger pieces of copper sheet could be formed here in the USA, allowing for larger, more robust copper items. Machines accommodated this. Large and small burring machines became available. Particular tools were built to help make a fast double seam that didn’t damage the softer metal. Soon a smith workshop could be as “automated” as the Industrial Revolution could make it.
But the Revolution also brought about new tools that eventually completely automated cookware manufacturing with different metals as the base used for forming, rendering tin and copper cookware obsolete. The renovations of the blast furnace and the inexpensive cast iron, enamelware, and in the early 1900’s, the advent of cheap aluminum cookware forced tin and copper fall to the wayside as kitchen staples, not to mention the invention of stamping sheet metal, which made a tinsmith’s job easier (the tricky work was done and you could just assemble) but also eventually took over the job itself.
Still, the need for tin and coppersmiths never completely disappeared. Tinsmiths are still employed by larger manufacturing companies to handle anything from ductwork to forming the tin pieces of products en masse. Finding someone who can re-tin a copper pot is next to impossible, but there are several in America with the know-how and the generosity of spirit to train people to pass along the trade (I’m one of them). Coppersmiths are few and far between as well, but their work is valued as artisanal and/or useful.
American copper cookware is also slowly finding a renaissance now, here at House Copper, with a mix of modern and vintage crafts to create the pieces, which is, in my opinion, a great marrying of old and new traditions that are the bedrock of our American manufacturing history – from hand-made copper to machine-spun.
It’s beyond cool, you know?