These silversmiths show their mettle Silverware: When a family heirloom breaks, tarnishes or gets bent beyond recognition by a merciless garbage disposal, the artisans of Pride Inc. are ready to perform miracles on metal.

July 25, 1996|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,SUN STAFF

A maid, angry about who knows what, cleaned up after her employer's dinner party one night by shoving 47 sterling silver knives, forks and spoons into the garbage disposal. The whirling blades hacked them into expensive junk.

The maid was sacked on the spot, right?

No.

A few weeks later, she popped a dozen silver serving pieces into the dishwasher; the heat cycle blasted the ivory handles into splinters.

She was history then, for sure.

No way.

"She's been with us for years; we'll never get rid of her," the silverware's ever-forgiving owner told Rod Merson as she begged him to perform one of his metal-miracles and make everything like new again.

It took time, but when Merson and his fellow artisans at Pride Inc. -- men trained at the great Baltimore silversmiths Kirk, Stieff and Schofield -- finished, the flatware was as bright and perfect as the day it was made.

Merson, his two partners and four employees have developed a specialty business that keeps them busy full time -- mostly correcting other people's mistakes -- in a Parkville basement so crowded with machinery and equipment that they work virtually cheek by jowl at their benches.

"Whoever invented the garbage disposal had to be a retired silversmith," Merson said.

His "strangest" job involved a garbage disposal and played out like a cloak-and-dagger drama.

A Towson-area woman with a terrible-tempered husband accidentally dropped a fork into the disposal, which promptly chewed it up. The fork was part of an heirloom child's silver set, and her husband's proudest possession.

"She panicked and threw the fork away," Merson said. "Then she called me."

A half-dozen times, the woman sneaked the silver set in its velvet case out of the house for clandestine meetings with Merson on various parking lots. He first took a pattern impression from the surviving spoon, and as work progressed they met to compare it with the new fork.

"It looked like we were doing dope deals," said Merson, 49, "but it had to be exact, even the wear, and I had to age it properly because he cleaned the silver a lot."

Merson said that when the day came and he called to say it was ready, he got the shock of his life.

" 'I don't need the damn thing now. He died two days ago,' " he recalled the woman saying.

Merson said he was paid anyway for the job, which cost the widow more than $600.

Expanded expertise

The craftsmen were trained primarily as silversmiths but have expanded their expertise to include custom fabrication and repairs of any metal.

"We get all the headache jobs, the ones nobody else wants to do. We do jobs for other repair shops," said Michael Hollingshead, 47, a partner.

"We've never turned down a job, no matter how difficult," said Hollingshead, who recently rebuilt a broken cast-brass lamp -- spinning the replacement piece on a lathe from a circular piece of sheet brass, so cleverly that no hint of the repair join is visible.

Traditional silversmith companies had begun reducing work forces when Pride Inc. was started in 1982 by Rod Merson, his brother Ron, 51, who specializes in fabricating intricate pieces, and Hollingshead.

The craftsmen -- who found repetitious production work boring -- relish a challenge to their combined expertise, such as rebuilding a 6-foot-tall, four-tier, Dutch-style brass chandelier that had crashed from a 32-foot ceiling. It was reduced to a twisted wreck.

"It was a real headache because of its size," said Rod, who grew up in the Hampden and Carney areas and quit high school in the ninth grade to learn the silversmith's trade.

Word-of-mouth, not advertising, has spread the Harford Road company's reputation and led to commissions from across the state -- including work for the Maryland Historical Society -- from other states and even from abroad.

"Mostly what we get are horror stories, though. Family pieces get broken, like the antique teapot gets dropped and people are afraid of what will happen when other relatives find out," Rod Merson said. "A lot of people try do-it-yourself repairs. They just make things worse, and then they come to us."

Bizarre tales

Some jobs, however, are in the funny, or perhaps bizarre, category, like the three wisdom teeth a customer ordered to be covered in silver and mounted with rings for neck chains.

Then there was the dirty, tattered, size-15 gym shoe sent in to be bronzed and mounted on a plaque. A group of local physicians who play racquetball together decided to make it an award for their "most improved" player.

Merson also recalls the priest who found a loose diamond in his church. Announcements and advertisements produced no claimant, so the priest had it mounted on his communion chalice.

The team is preparing to work on antique chalices that were stolen from a Randallstown church and buried more than 20 years ago.

In November, Eagle Scout David Christian Martin of Reisterstown was working on a community-service project along a side road off Wards Chapel Road in Soldiers Delight when he spotted something shiny.

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