Monday, May 23, 2011

The Source of the Silver

The Maria Theresa Coins were minted of high quality silver 
         in the hundreds of millions in Europe in the late 1700s. 

They were used by Europeans to buy Yemen coffee and tons of the silver became the bridewealth of the Yemeni peoples, Muslims and Jews.  Often the coins were simply provided with a loop and bells were dangled from them to then be sewed onto clothing or hung on a chain or cord and worn and used in the bridal dowery.  More often the coins were melted and worked by the Jewish silversmiths into the filigree and granulation motifs of Yemeni craftsmen.  

When the woman who owned the bridewealth passed on, whatever remained of the dowery was often melted down and new jewelry was fabricated from the silver.  So pieces of jewelry were traditional in design but most of the jewelry pieces were not many generations old, only the raw material grew older, was sometimes adulterated to make jewelry of great workmanship but of lower quality silver.   As Yemen's economy declined in relation to that of Europe, the  stretching of the quantity of silver was especially necessary.  Not so many Maria Theresa coins were available to the craftsmen.   For the individual craftsman, it was the quality of the workmanship that was important, and for the bride's father, it was the weight of raw material that was impressive.  So the jewelry continued to be made in abundance.

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