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Beginnings: Early times to 1560

Industry and Technology

Fine Metal Working

By George R Dalgleish

The success of the luxury trades of the goldsmith, silversmith and jeweller reflected the wealth and prosperity of Glasgow at any given moment in its history. It is no surprise, therefore, that during Glasgow's early years as a small, relatively poor ecclesiastical burgh, there were few goldsmiths recorded and virtually nothing known about what they made. John Goldsmith is the first of his trade to appear in the burgh records in 1472. Between then and c.1560 another four are recorded.

As in all other Scottish burghs, except Edinburgh, Glasgow goldsmiths belonged to the Incorporation of Hammermen. Like the other trades incorporations, this body jealously controlled most aspects of its members' work. It included all craftsmen who worked "with hammer and hand". Individual trades included blacksmiths, lorimers (clockmakers), armourers, buckle makers, saddlers and goldsmiths. It gained its official "Seal of Cause" (or charter) from the Burgh Council and Archbishop in 1536. From then on anyone who wished to ply his trade as a goldsmith within Glasgow had to belong to the Incorporation of Hammermen.

Membership was strictly controlled and before a craftsman could become a "freeman" he had to be a burgess of the town, have served five years as an apprentice, paid an entrance fee and proved that he was a competent craftsman by making a test piece or "essay" which was set and judged by existing members. Some early 17th century goldsmiths' essays included "ane silver hilt to ane sword, ane small brandie dish and ane plain gold ring".

Although no known marked pieces of early Glasgow-made silver or gold exist, it is possible that one of the most important pieces of silver still to survive in Scotland was at least partly the work of a Glasgow man. The Bute Mazer, now on display in the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, is a communal drinking bowl. It is made of maple wood, set with an early 14th century central silver-gilt boss, decorated with a lion and heraldic shields to represent King Robert the Bruce and his chief supporters. The mazer also has a later, 16th century silver rim and straps which may have been made by Peter Lymeburner, a Glasgow goldsmith whose forty-year career began in the early 1560s.

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