Among the artisans who settled and worked in Tennessee from the early 1790s until the Civil War period were tradesmen who made, repaired, plated, and retailed silver, jewelry, clocks, and watches. The geography, history, settlement, and trade patterns of Tennessee, combined with the experiences of the silversmiths themselves, brought about unique regional styles. As the fledgling state matured, so did the products of its silversmiths. By the mid-nineteenth century, however, the silversmithing trade in Tennessee increasingly was affected by a dramatic shift in the technology of production. Mechanization, more efficient transportation, and improved communication with the northeast brought a large number of imports into the area and hastened the end of individualistic silver styles in Tennessee.
In this original survey Ben Caldwell divides the study of Tennessee silver into three chronological periods, outlines the lives of silversmiths, clock and watchmakers, jewelers, and retailers who worked in Tennessee before 1860, and illustrates their work. Brief biographies gleaned from county records, newspaper notices, and family histories are included with an introductory description of antebellum Tennessee, its history and demographics. Individual advertisements, marks, and silver are arranged to demonstrate the development of Tennessee silver trade. Caldwell's conclusions about Tennessee silver and its makers, drawn from the presentation of these factors in a cohesive unit, make this book an important part of the study of southern material culture, and an indispensable addition to the history of American silver in general.