Journal article Open Access

Learning a Craft from Books: Historical Re-enactment of Functional Reading in Gold- and Silversmithing

Hagendijk, Thijs

The early modern period witnessed a great increase in the production and dissemination of artisanal handbooks, manuals and recipes. A central question is what role these texts played in the transmission of artisanal knowledge. This study explores the case of Dutch silversmith Willem van Laer (1674-1722) who published a Guidebook for upcoming gold- and silversmiths(1721), a comprehensive and well-received manual of the craft. To assess the role of the Guidebookin the acquisition of practical skills in the eighteenth century, this study employs traditional historical methods combined with historical re-enactment. I argue that effective use of the Guidebookdepended on complementary hands-on education of master craftsmen, which suggests that the Guidebookwas far from a DIY crash course and illustrates that the textual transmission of craft knowledge depended upon, rather than threatened, established routes to craft learning, such as apprenticeships.

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