Piercework Silver | Vintage Silver Terminology

Piercework silver–or pierced work silver–describes a form of decoration consisting of open holes in the metal. As I was photographing these English Georgian sugar tongs today, I was struck anew with the fabulous and rarely seen form of piercework that both decorates and structurally defines them.

piercework silver

Piercework silver tongs.  Look at that central motif…it almost looks like a Celtic knot.

Piercework silver

Originally piercework silver was made by punching holes in the silver with a chisel.  In the 1770′s the technique evolved to use a saw, appropriately called saw-cutting.  The tongs above date from about 1790 and are likely made with the saw-cutting technique.  Out of all the Georgian sugar tongs I’ve come across over the years, these are the only ones in which the arms of the tongs have been pierced so extensively.

More usually, the arms are a solid piece of metal, perhaps with some chasing or engraving to decorate them.  The arms on these tongs are more open than solid.  The central motif almost has hints of the Celtic knot design. What’s more, the exterior face of the piercework has been decorated with the little indents.  It gives a rope-like quality to the swirling forms of the piercework.  Again, more usually, piercework silver is left undecorated, making it look more like the interior edge of the tongs which you can see in the photo.

piercework silver

Piercework tongs…good for more than just sugar cubes.

Structurally strong

It is a great testament to the skill of the silversmith that despite their airy and open texture, these piercework silver tongs can still lift and grasp to serve food, without bending out of shape.

The shell ends firmly grip, while the solid bridge (the curved bit connecting the two arms) has lots of spring to generate the force needed to hold the food.

As regular readers know, sugar tongs are one of my favorite implements, being useful for serving far more than sugar cubes. Sugar tongs have really suffered from their name, with it becoming the defining way in which they can be used.  Remember, the name is just a suggestion, not a life sentence.

To display their versatility, I’ve paired them here with a delectable cinnamon loaf cake.  It must be noted that several members of the Magpies household were anxiously hovering round the photo shoot waiting for me to finish.

piercework silver

Swirls of cinnamon sugar are laced through this moist and delectable cake. Makes two…enough for you and a friend.

Cinnamon Loaf Cake (click title for a printer-friendly version)

  • 2 cups butter, at room temperature
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 6 eggs
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp. cinnamon

for the icing

  • 1/2 cup confectioners or icing sugar
  • few drops of water

Preheat oven to 350℉.  Grease two 9×5 inch loaf tins.

Beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add in the Greek yogurt.  Mix well, then add vanilla.  Add eggs one at a time.  Mix well between each egg.  Add the flour and baking soda.  Mix until just combined – all the dry flour will have been absorbed by the batter.

Now for the fun bit.  In theory, you are trying to make three equal layers of batter separated by layers of cinnamon sugar in each loaf.  To be clear, you are trying to get 6 equal measure of batter.  In practice, it’s quite difficult to get perfectly even…just do the best you can.  It will all be delicious.

Mix together the 1/2 cup sugar and cinnamon.  Pour the first layer of batter into each loaf tin.  Sprinkle over a generous layer of cinnamon sugar.  Pour the second layer of batter in each tin, and again sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.  Reserve a bit of cinnamon sugar.  Pour the final layer of batter into the loaf tins and put them in the oven. Each loaf will have three layers of batter separated by two layers of cinnamon sugar.

Cook for about 50 minutes.  My tins are a very dark color, so the loaf cooks a bit more quickly than if you have lighter colored tins.  I’d start checking at about 45 minutes.  A toothpick inserted in the center of each loaf should come out clean when the cake is ready.

Cool for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.  Once totally cool, mix together the confectioners sugar with a few drops of water.  Add the water slowly!  You want to create a smooth, quite thick, mixture to glaze the cakes with.  Once the glaze is the right consistency, spread it over each loaf.  Sprinkle with the remaining cinnamon sugar.

Makes two cinnamon loaf cakes.  While your household devours one, perhaps you can wrap the other up and start a friend’s New Year with a nice surprise.

PS

I hope you and yours have had a fantastic holiday season, and hope that 2014 is a wonderful year for you.  It’s just past 6:30 pm on New Year’s Eve here in DC and I’m off to start our celebration.

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