Copper Chronicles: How a shipyard worker hammered artillery shells into art

Ben Marks of Collector's Weekly says: "We just published an article and slideshow about Dirk van Erp, an early 20th-century coppersmith whose first decorative vases were made from spent artillery shells. For our article, I spoke to Gus Bostrom, author of Bay Area Copper 1900-1950, Dirk van Erp & His Influence."

By day, van Erp fabricated utilitarian pieces for the Navy, capitalizing on the skills he learned in the old country. But in his spare time, van Erp began hammering decorative vases out of spent artillery shell casings, which still bore the names of their manufacturers (“Winchester Repeating Arms Co.,” “UMC Co.,” etc.) on their bases. “He started off making those as his hobby,” says Gus Bostrom, who first became intrigued with van Erp as a pre-teenager. Since then, Bostrom has spent much of his life filling in the cracks of van Erp’s often incomplete history, using his shop, California Historical Design, in Berkeley, California, as a base of operations. “There was probably an area or department at the shipyard where he’d just pick them out of a bin and pay for them based on their scrap value.”

Copper Chronicles: How a shipyard worker hammered artillery shells into art

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  1. Yes, the shells were made of brass, but he was a coppersmith all his subsequent decorative work was in copper. And if you read newspaper accounts of his shell vases back in the 1900s, they are referred to as "copperware" even though they were made out of brass. The term is used imprecisely when it includes brass.

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