Silverwork of Burma – Status and Characteristics of Silversmiths

Joseph Cohen Harry Tilly, Silver 388 Views

T he occupation of silversmith is not hereditary in Burma, though it often happens that amongst the members of a particular family one or two are found in each generation to have an especial aptitude for the work. Like other men, some work steadily and some fitfully, but a good craftsman is honoured by his fellow townsmen and his success is felt to reflect credit on the town.


Government has hitherto refrained from setting up a School of Art, having been advised to encourage individualism and the competition of one master against another, and, as far as possible, to distribute the patronage which comes in its way, amongst the best master-silversmiths in different towns. Some of the Municipalities take an interest in their handicraftsmen and help them to exhibit at the yearly Provincial Art Competitions.  There remains yet the regulation of apprentices or pupils – the masters complain that a boy deserts his teacher before he has learnt his trade and undersells him with inferior work which is brought by dealers and sold to globe-trotters. It is probable that this difficulty will be surmounted by binding selected apprentices to the best masters and paying a part of their salary out of funds devoted to technical education.

The Burman silversmith has been greatly influenced by work from other countries. The Burmese Government transported whole families of artizans after the successful invasion of Siam in 1760 and the Burmese silverwork gained greatly. The drawings on the opposite page show the effect of foreign patterns on foliage scroll work which have been absorbed into the Burmese style. From about 1870 – 1885 Burmese silverwork deteriorated very much in response to a European demand for richly embossed work in which all the leading principles of design were lost sight of in a confused jumble of inferior imitations of Italian carving. Examples of this have been carefully excluded from this Monograph which is intended chiefly as a text book for the silversmiths themselves. It is hoped that the connoisseur reader will remember this when reading the descriptions of the plates which follow and will not resent the didactic tone of the criticism with.

Joseph CohenSilverwork of Burma – Status and Characteristics of Silversmiths