Colonial Peruvian Silver
Known in Spanish colonial times as El Opulento, Peru’s Cerro de Pasco shared with Potosí (now situate in neighboring Bolivia) the credit of being one of the greatest silver producing districts in the world. The area around Pasco had begun producing silver in the late sixteenth century, and by the 1690s three important mineral zones in Peru were in production. While the mineral deposits were of low grade, they were shallow and easily exploitable, so large fortunes were made as a result. However, mining in the New World was carried out in regions that brought numerous engineering and logistical difficulties. Many mines were deep in the ground and flooding and draining were ever-present problems. The mines of Potosí were worked at over 16,000 feet above sea level, high in the mountains creating a different set of problems.
Supplying these remote Andean mines posed logistical problems, since thousands of llamas and mules were required to carry food and provisions, timber, ore and mercury through difficult terrain over trails that were often narrow and precipitous. By the late eighteenth century mining output in many parts of the New World was suffering from the exhaustion of accessible deposits and from financial and technical difficulties incurred in attempting to reach deeper lodes. Political instability in the aftermath of the fall of Napoleon and an increased desire for freedom from Iberian rule in Latin America compounded these problems.
Improved mining technology and methods were “imported” from Europe by the late-eighteenth century and production improved. Today, Peruvian mines produce a significant amount of silver and other metals, with Peru being in the top three countries in the world for silver production.
Early Peruvian silversmiths made large amounts of items, most of which were targeted toward the needs and desires of the Andean peoples. But by the end of the nineteenth century, Peru was solidly on the map for creating beautiful silver items in both the traditional design motifs and the Colonial motifs geared toward the tastes of customers from the Old World.
We recently acquired several old Colonial silver items from Peru. Beautiful frames and mirrors made from thin sheets of silver, hand hammered into geometric and curvilinear repousse designs. We also have some more modern mixed metal items as well.