May 10, 2006

DSpace now has a silver touch: 'Compendium of Scottish Silver' is available online, free to anyone

Want to know more about that Scottish silver two-handled quaich made in the 1800s or that silver spoon you picked up at an auction? Now, everything you ever wanted to know about extant Scottish silver is available free -- online through Cornell University.

The 551-page "Compendium of Scottish Silver" is authored by Cornell immunotoxicologist Rodney Dietert and his wife, Janice. Scottish silver, which is known for its distinctive forms and decorations, is actively collected and highly prized, said Dietert, a professor in the microbiology and immunology department of Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine.

"Rod and Janice Dietert's book brings together for the first time the most extensive catalog of Scottish silver, encompassing outstanding public collections, such as that of the National Museums of Scotland, and will undoubtedly be a major academic tool for all those interested in the subject," wrote George Dalgleish, principal curator of Scottish history at the National Museums of Scotland.

The compendium is available from Internet-First University Press on DSpace, Cornell's online "super archive" (http://dspace.library.cornell.edu/), where just about anyone at Cornell can post just about anything, and anyone in the world can access it without charge. Alternatively, the compendium can be ordered in a two-volume edition via print-on-demand for a fee.

A gold mine (or perhaps in this case a silver mine) of information for museum curators, antique dealers, collectors and historians, the new compendium is fully searchable and includes detailed descriptions on some 5,000 Scottish silver items -- from bowls and broaches, medals and badges to ink and mustard pots, lamps, rattles, flatware, mugs and racks, as well as gold snuffboxes, rattles and even teapots crafted between 1320 and 2004. There are 53 plates illustrating prototype examples of Scottish silver, a timeline and a glossary of terms used in describing silver and gold pieces.

"Most of my research in the last decade in immunotoxicology has been on the toxic health effects of metals, particularly lead," said Dietert. "With this book, I turn from doom and gloom to look at the flip side, emphasizing the beauty, form, history and utility of the metals silver and gold."

The Dieterts have been working on the project for some 20 years, ever since they bought a curious Scottish silver teapot from a New York City antique shop. As they started to dig for more information about the teapot's silversmith, they grew increasingly intrigued with Scottish silver and started their own collection of some 120 pieces and kept mining the Cornell libraries for more information. Before they knew it, they were working on a comprehensive database of all extant Scottish silver.

"We have since accessed all the ads for Scottish silver from trade publications, found marriage records, journals and magazines that provided information and much more," said Dietert. "This project is an example of the glory of this university and what its resources can facilitate."

"Rod's enthusiasm for the subject, together with Janice's patient hard work, have produced a standard work which will be indispensable to every collector, dealer and museum curator with an interest in Scottish silver," said Henry Steuart Fothringham, O.B.E. (Order of the British Empire), historian to the Incorporation of Goldsmiths of the City of Edinburgh.

Although DSpace readers are free to print whatever pages they choose, the entire compendium can be ordered as a bound volume by contacting Cornell Business Services at digital@cornell.edu.