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Carl Poul Petersen: Master Canadian silversmith

Updated on February 19, 2016

Danish roots

The work of silversmith Carl Poul Petersen (1895-1977) represents an artistic oeuvre with strong European roots. Trained as an apprentice in the studio of world renown designer Georg Jensen in Copenhagen, Petersen learned his craft from a master silversmith whose style was influenced by Art Nouveau.

Carl Poul Petersen
Carl Poul Petersen

A start in Canada

In 1929, Petersen and his wife Inger Jensen immigrated to Canada, settling in Montreal, Quebec. The Danish silversmith was immediately hired by Henry Birks & Sons Ltd., where he worked as studio master for ten years. This position enabled him to familiarize himself with Canadian materials and gain an understanding of the market trends in North America.

Petersen opened his own two-room studio on McGill College Street in Montreal in 1939. He signed a contract with the Canadian Aircraft Company to produce aluminum filters for Mosquito airplanes used in combat during World War II, industrial work that provided a major source of income for several years. He also did repairs on jewellery pieces for People's Credit Jewellers and Mappin's.

Samovar, late 1930s, Musee McCord, from the collection of Mme Samuel Bronfman
Samovar, late 1930s, Musee McCord, from the collection of Mme Samuel Bronfman

Patrons and Commissions

During the post-war years, Petersen was able to establish a name for himself as a silversmith through the patronage of businessman Samuel Bronfman, owner of Seagram distillery. He completed a samovar, a set of cutlery, a silver tea service and other tableware for Samuel's wife Saidye, and the revenue from these commissions allowed him to move his studio to a large house on MacKay St. As the business expanded, his three sons took jobs in the studio, and in 1946, Petersen registered his enterprise as C.P. Petersen & Sons Ltd.

Petersen's studio was organized in a manner that resembled Jensen's European atelier. The heavy machines used for stamping were in the basement, along with the polishing department. The main floor included an elegant salon used as a showroom, where natural light enhanced the gleam of silver pieces displayed in glass cases. The former dining room was used as the designer's workroom, and the upper floor of the house served as the Petersen family's living quarters.

Fish brooch, private collection
Fish brooch, private collection
Fish brooch verso, with hallmark
Fish brooch verso, with hallmark

Jewellery and Repoussage

Canadians became aware of the modern look of Danish design during the 1950s and 60s. Petersen's smorgasbord pieces were sought-after items, as well as his jewellery. The technique of "repoussage" was incorporated into these pieces to give a low relief to the surface decoration. Petersen created images of birds, fish, insects, waves and flowers by hammering the silver from the reverse side, and then chasing the design on the front to add depth and detail. This fish brooch is a good example of Petersen's signature style and shows the fluid, graceful lines and round droplets of silver that characterized his aesthetic. The hallmark on the reverse features a Viking ship profile with the initials "PP" above and the words PETERSEN HANDMADE STERLING. The stamp on the right hand side is a lion's head enclosed in the letter "C", the official mark used by registered Canadian silversmiths after 1934.

Stanley Cup
Stanley Cup | Source

Silver for the NHL

From the late 1940s, Petersen was the silversmith responsible for engraving the famous Stanley Cup with names of the winning teams and their players, and carrying out any necessary repairs or restoration work on the trophy. In 1962 he was commissioned by the NHL to create a replica of the original Stanley Cup that was donated to the league by Canada's Governor General, Lord Stanley in 1893. The Petersen replica is the cup used today for honouring the winning team, while the original trophy is conserved in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

Museum Pieces

The work of Carl Poul Petersen is included in various private and public collections around the globe. You can see outstanding Petersen pieces in the Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal, Quebec, The McCord Museum, Montreal, Quebec, The National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario and Winnipeg Art Gallery, Winnipeg, Manitoba.

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    • marshacanada profile image

      marshacanada 5 years ago from Vancouver BC

      Thanks for this hub. Carl poul Peterson's work is dramatic in its varied styles and productions.I bet he had fun working on the Stanley Cup. I LOVE silver work-especially silver jewelry and repoussage. Have you ever written about West Coast First Nations silver work?

    • Vanderleelie profile image
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      Vanderleelie 5 years ago from New Brunswick, Canada

      Thanks for your comment marshacanada. I also have admiration for West Coast First Nations silver. I lived in Victoria B.C. for a number of years and became familiar with many of the contemporary First Nations artists, who work in printmaking, woodcarving and silver. You've suggested a great topic for another hub!

    • klidstone1970 profile image

      இڿڰۣ-- кιмвєяℓєу 3 years ago from Niagara Region, Canada

      I'm ashamed to say I'm not familiar with Carl Poul Petersen. This was very interesting, especially his involvement with the Stanley Cup. Thanks for sharing.

    • Vanderleelie profile image
      Author

      Vanderleelie 3 years ago from New Brunswick, Canada

      klidstone1970: Thanks for your comment. I wasn't aware of Petersen's silver work until I acquired a brooch signed with his hallmark and started doing some research. The hockey connection somehow made his story more Canadian. The Montreal museum McCord has some good examples of Petersen's work in their collection.

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