How Sterling silver wares
are created

The word repoussé is often associated with the Stieff Rose pattern. The word means “to push from the inside” which is exactly what the silversmith would do to make a hollow handle in the Rose pattern.  In early years this was done by hand... later by machine. When making a hollow handle two parts are made and soldered together to form one piece. Stieff craftsmen then hand chased the two pieces to create individual works of art. Pictured below is an example of Stieff hand chasing on the sides of the handles. Later Kirk-Stieff pieces did not finish this process and a band of smooth silver is found along the edge. The repoussé method was also used to make the prized “Hollow Ware” pieces which are the assorted “hollow” pieces like vases, bowls, plates, tea sets etc. These pieces are no longer being made.

For details on this form of silversmithing, please go to: to see pictures of the hand tools and a rather florid description of the process as observed in 1903.


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This next piece is an excerpt from a 1930’s pamphlet from the “Sterling Silversmith’s Guild” and explains the process. This is from  At The Stieff Company they used a different die for each piece, so that the fork and spoon were not merely joined to a common handle. Each piece had a die made for each size spoon, fork, ladle etc., from the smallest salt spoon to the huge punch bowl ladle. As years went by and dies would wear out new ones were cut... each being a little different from the others. Looking at your service you may find subtle or major differences in the patterns depending on the year made.

More on this in the date marks page...and Stieff Rose.


The pattern is cut into a piece of steel to create a die, dies are made in the reverse of what the final piece will look like.  Second picture below show blanks. Blanks are rough cut shapes of what the final piece of silverware will look like. The dies are set into machinery that stamps the silver pattern on to the blanks. Photos of this process are not Stieff photos or Stieff Patterns. Photos are from and  “Sterling Silversmith’s Guild” which oddly did not include any of the Baltimore Silversmiths at that time.

Below is the evolution of the silverware, from blank to final finish

Below are photos showing the melting of silver, the stamping, shaping and polishing of the final product. Any pieces that show defects end up in the melting vat again to come out as another piece of Sterling flatware.

Stieff photos are posted farther below in this posting.

                                   Thank you again to for the photos.


The Following is a excerpt from a 1980’s

Sterling Silversmiths Guild Booklet

produced to show retailers how to better promote

and sell Sterling Silver to their customers.

This first photo is making a die of a Reed & Barton pattern

(Courtesy James Stieff)


How the same process was explained in the 1930’s by the same trade group.

The following photos of the Stieff factory are courtesy of the Stieff Family

A special thank you to Jim Stieff, Terry Fletcher  and Rose Duke for identifying

the people and what they were doing in the photos.

From slides dated  December 1979.

Unidentified operator stamping sterling flatware

Herman Engel die-sinking what appears to be lids

Jon Manning hand spinning a piece of silver.

Ed Collins hand chasing a repoussé large oval tray

Rose Duke reports that when the supervisors were out of the room, Ed would teach her hand chasing. He was not supposed to be doing so...

Doris Elliott inspecting flatware

(reflection...Joe Manheim? Master Polisher)

Rose Duke hand engraving flatware a piece of Lady Claire

Rose has been very helpful in identifying people in old photos of The Stieff Company

Comment from Rose in 2010  “The engraving bench faced to the north facing window-great light. When I came back in the 80's they had turned the work benches sideway to the window-bad for lighting because you would tend to throw your own shadow on your work. In the end, the engraving department was in the basement with the stamping machines.”

The Stieff family promises to share more photos of the

factory and the employees.

As those photos come in, I will share them with you.

If anyone else has photos that they wish to share, please email them to me, identifying anyone that you can and the work being done

and I will post those too.


This die would have been used to form silver into possibly a lid or maybe a base of a goblet.

Silver would be beaten into the die to create the design, in the manner of REPOUSSÉ, on the reverse side.  The piece would have been finished by hand, sharpening up the design,  and cleaning up any rough edges.

From the collection of Charles & Anne Stieff

From the collection of Charles and Anne Stieff comes this die from what may be the handle of

either an old button hook or maybe a candle snuffer. When Lenox was moving the Kirk-Stieff Company

to Rhode Island a lot of the old dies were piled up as scrap. Charles and Anne pulled this one and several

more from the scrap pile. Below is another example saved by the Stieff’s.

This is a plaster cast of a Stieff Pepper Tower. The craftsmen would cut the original into a block of

wood.  Then plaster copies would be made to help the die maker see the detail as he cut the dies to make a complete piece. Note that this a THIRD of the tower. If you look close at the bottom of the plaster mold, where it meets the flat area.. you can see the “blank” spots where the legs will be attached. The pepper towers were made in three identical parts which were then joined to make one piece and the legs were then added. If you own one of these, look inside and you can see the three seams at the top edges.

Also note the elongated neck of the pepper tower on the mold. This is so the bottom of the top piece that inserts into the bottom could be cast at the same time. Final finish work would add a banding at the top of  rim of the tower, hand chasing to cover the seam work, addition of the ball top and adding the stieff name and date marks as well as a good polishing. This piece was also rescued by the Stieff’s in 2000.


These photos are from the collection of

Baltimore Museum of Industry

Bill Klass, Hand engraving a tray.

April 17, 1973  (Klass is pronounced Glass)

A Williamsburg Coffee Pot comes to together

November 19, 1965


This is a die for a ROSE salt spoon

Also the famous Stieff spoon pins

From The Baltimore Museum of Industry collection of Baltimore Silversmith dies.


At The Stieff Company, silver was bought in flat bars. This is how a sterling silver spoon began it’s life. Next the end was flattened, and then the basic shape was stamped. Below are the four stages of the process.

Refined sterling silver was supplied to The Stieff Company by two companies,

Handy & Harman and ENGELHARD Industries

This was in both the BAR form as seen above and as SHEET silver which would be spun into hollow ware.

Scrap left over from the manufacturing process would be returned to the refiner to make more sterling.

Next the blank shape was stamped into a spoon with rough edges. This piece would go to the finishing room to be trimmed and then polished

The above are from a display at The Baltimore Museum of Industry

I could not get a good photo of the two piece die on display at the museum. Below is one part of a spoon die.

He is an example of an early die of Stieff Rose (one of two parts)

This is an optical illusion.. the bowl of the spoon goes inward and not outward as it appears to do in the photo.

Die from the collection of The Baltimore Museum of Industry