(click on photos to enlarge image)
The World of Mexican Silver Salts
"Worthwhile silver requires that it be identified with
the name and reputation of its maker" William Spratling
The history of silver in Mexico combines both legend and fact.
Taxco is the center - it is located between Acapulco and
southwest of Mexico City in the hills.
Before the Spanish arrived, the native Indians called it
TLACHO meaning the place of the ballgame. According to local
legend, the Aztecs had the locals pay tribute to them with gold
bars. Cortes conquered the Aztecs in 1521 and then staked his
mining claim in Taxco.
By the end of that century, silver from Taxco had spread across
Europe and Taxco, as a silver center was born.
It became Spainís primary source of silver. As other mining
areas in the world became more accessible to Spain, the interest
in Taxco decreased and faded out for almost 200 years.
In 1716, Don Jose de la Borda rediscovered silver in Taxco, when
he was riding and wandering in the hills. He spotted a rich
silver vein and turned that find into a fortune, rewarding the
town by building schools, roads, houses, and the Santa Prisca
If you go to Taxco, the church can be seen from all over - it
glitters in the sunlight. Donít ask me why he used so much gold
when it was silver they were mining. Don Jose also built a
private residence called Casa Borda which later became an
essential workshop for silversmiths.
During Mexicoís War for Independence in the 19th century,
Spanish barons destroyed the silver mines instead of letting
them go to the revolutionaries. So, again the art of silverwork
died out again.
In 1926, William Spratling, an architecture professor from
Tulane University, decided to study Mexican culture and choose
Taxco for his study. He spent three summers learning about the area before
moving to Taxco in 1929. He met U.S. Ambassador Dwight Morrow in
1931, who commented to Mr. Spratling that Taxco had been the site
of silver mines for centuries but had been left unknown in
silver circles. Spratling changed all of that.
He opened a shop (La Aduana) to pay his bills and living
expenses and it showcased local talent of weavings, tin ware,
copper and furniture.
By 1933, the shopís biggest attraction was silver. Using the
native rosewood, gold, copper, bronze and abalone he was able to
create some incredible masterpieces.
William Spratling taught many of the local citizens about the
craft of silversmithing. He used an apprentice system which
worked well. Zorritas were young men running errands and
eventually grew in technical and aesthetic understanding to
become maestros of their craft.
As they became more experienced and skilled, he was able to open
- Taller de las Delicias. As the number of employees grew, many
were encouraged to open their own shops.
It was important to Spratling to create a tradition where none
had existed before. As his company expanded, he needed an
infusion of money, so he brought in outside investors. This
brought in money, but also new management, who didnít agree
with Spratling. He resigned from his own company in July 1945
and went to work on personal designs.
The U.S. Department of the Interior had talked to Spratling for
several years about creating a format to train Alaskan students
to design and fabricate silver jewelry, objects and sculpture
based on traditional native designs and using indigenous
materials. Spratling's plan was finally accepted and Spratling
created 200 models for the project. Seven Alaskan students flew
to Spratling's ranch in 1949, where for several months, each was
trained in the methods that had proven so successful in Mexico.
The students returned to Alaska. A lack of subsequent
government support and funding brought rapid closure to this
Spratling, however, after spending considerable time in Alaska
as he researched the Alaskan and North West Coast heritage, came
away with new ideas that dramatically influenced his later
Some of the first evidence of this new dimension to Spratling's
designs appeared in those pieces marked "Spratling de Mexico".
Those Spratling designs were produced at both the Conquistador
factory in Mexico City and at Spratling's ranch during 1949 and
1950 (The arrangement with Conquistador was terminated in 1951.)
Subsequent designs also carry on this more stylized, streamlined,
refined line. The use of shallow, flowing, incised lines, and
ebony, azurite, tortoise shell, yellow jasper, rosewood and
malachite enhance the reflections, shadows and planes of the
Spratling also, during this period, produced ebony and gold
jewelry designs. Spratling continued the use of applied silver
circles, inset rosewood or ebony circles, stylized animals
themes, and other design elements, but always in a simpler,
sparer, more distinctive fashion.
Throughout Spratling's career, he created custom work for
clients. Spratling combined his interest in Pre-Columbian
artifacts with his talents as a designer and produced some
exceptional pieces of jewelry using Pre-Columbian jade in
combination with gold beads. I was lucky enough to attend a
Spratling exhibit in San Antonio, TX and see newly discovered
objects that Spratling had made during his time in Alaska.
William Spratling was killed in an automobile accident outside
Taxco on August 7, 1967. His ranch, hallmarks, and all
designs were purchased by Mr. Alberto Ulrich whose family
continues to produce Spratling designs through the company
Sucesores de William Spratling S.A.
He is known as the "Father of Contemporary Mexican Silver".
About the photographs
This salts are made of silver (95% silver and 5% copper) and/or
rosewood. Spratling salts are very plain for the most part and
might have applied beading for ornamentation. Also, you can see
that many times he incorporated rosewood to the bases or spoons.
They range in size from quite small to about 3 inches to the
oval shaped on the rosewood base. Prices of the salts are
depending on scarcity.
For additional information: www.spratlingsilver.com