STORY BY BENJAMIN LERNER
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY DANFORTH PEWTER
Watching one of Danforth Pewter’s seasoned artisans gracefully shape the sides of their signature oil lamps is a unique and captivating experience. As a scintillating pewter disc spins rapidly on a lathe, a master smith forms elegant curves in the surface by applying pressure with a metal shaping tool. Though the fluid and steady movements that mold the curvature in the metal might appear effortless and uncomplicated to a casual observer, it takes years of training to master the finer points of this elaborate process.
By applying the same patience and dedication required to sculpt the contours of their oil lamps towards the development of new product lines and environmentally sustainable production methods, Danforth Pewter has been able to successfully grow their business and branch out into new and exciting markets. As they forge a bold new path forward, they have combined cutting-edge technology with traditional craft practices to create timelessly distinctive pieces that are both durable and stylish. By holding fast to the honest, hard-working values that have defined their brand since its earliest days, they have distinguished themselves from industry competitors - and garnered a dedicated commercial following in the process.
According to Vice President of Marketing Sarah Dunn, one of the reasons for Danforth Pewter’s
continued success has been their continual commitment to transparency regarding their manufacturing methods. Dunn says that “many consumers are often forced to buy products without knowing the exact details of how they’re made. If you come to the Danforth Pewter workshop in Middlebury, you can actually watch our products being made through the windows. You can get a real-time look at how our process works from start to finish. It’s amazing to be able to see the amount of attention and detail that goes into each one of our pieces. Here at Danforth, we’re proud of our products. We want people to know about the hard work that goes into making each and every one of them. It’s a very human and personalized process. Each piece is touched by many hands before it’s finished.”
She explains that “many of our customers like to personalize their products with customized engravings. Our custom-engraved products are incredibly popular for weddings and baby showers, as well as holidays. People love to engrave their names on their Christmas ornaments or write a message to remember a special occasion. A lot of people purchase personalized ornaments to commemorate significant events or family trips. Our customers give us so many great ideas on what to do with the products, and that leads us to follow the themes that they suggest in our future product development. We’ve seen some very interesting trends recently that point to a shift in the way our customers’ lifestyles are influencing their product choices. As people are spending more and more time at home, we find that many people are investing in customized drinkware. Our hand-spun bourbon glasses and tumblers have been a big hit with our customers - especially with personalized engravings. People customize their cups in very inventive and fascinating ways - such as engraving the exact longitude or latitude of their homes. The possibilities are endless.”
One of the most beloved collections in Danforth’s extensive product range is their line of mold-cast pewter Christmas ornaments. Collection highlights include wildlife-oriented ornaments, a “12 Days of Christmas” themed collection, and ornaments that pay tribute to Danforth Pewter’s Vermont roots - such as their uniquely festive “Maple Creemee” shaped ornament. A unique limited-edition “Snowflake Bentley” ornament released every year in collaboration with the Jericho Historical Society honors the memory of celebrated Vermont snowflake photographer W.A. Bentley, who used a customized microscope camera to capture the world’s first picture of a singular snow crystal in 1885.
Dunn says that Danforth Pewter’s ornament line is “probably best known for its celebrated “Annual Ornament” collection that dates back to 1987. We began the tradition of releasing a unique ornament every holiday season to commemorate the year almost 35 years ago, and it’s really taken off since then. I like to think that the secret to the success of our annual Christmas ornament collection lies in the emotional connection that our clients form with the pieces. We have people that have been collecting every one of our ornaments since the first year that we’ve made them. Some of the stories that we hear from our customers are just so wonderful. One mom will give an ornament to her daughter, then her daughter will pass them on to the next generation. That feeling of being able to help people who buy our ornaments capture that emotional spark and loving connection is hard to express with words. We are so proud to see our products become a part of our customers’ holiday rituals. One of the biggest challenges during the holiday season is finding something that can bring you back to that same state of childlike joy that you felt during the holidays in your younger years. We like to keep that in mind whenever we create our ornaments. We want to make sure that kind of magical feeling can still happen. We want to preserve those types of moments through our products.”
In the same way that Danforth Pewter helps their customers preserve their family holiday traditions with their beautifully crafted ornaments, they also help to preserve the collective interests of future generations through the use of environmentally conscious technology and renewable energy. Dunn explains that “working with metal takes a lot of electricity or a lot of fuel. To help offset our carbon footprint, we source a good deal of the electrical power used at the workshop in Middlebury from a huge solar field out in Addison, Vermont. We’re also invested in the continual betterment of our casting process as we move towards the implementation of even more sustainable technology in our manufacturing processes. As our fuel-powered melting pots age, we’re replacing them with energy-efficient electric melting pots. We’re also excited about modern technological developments that will eventually allow us to move away from the traditional rubber molds used in our casting process – such as 3D printing.
We’re always searching for new approaches to move past the limitations of industry standard technology. We’re continually motivated by the feeling of fulfillment that comes from finding new and inventive ways to carry old traditions forward into the future. It all comes down to using sustainable technology to make celebrated historical craft processes better. Our products are built to last for a long time. We want to ensure that our business practices will help to build a better world for the future generations our products are passed down to.”
Dunn is a firm believer in the power of both environmentally sustainable business practices, and environmentally sustainable craftmanship. She explains that “it’s a common misconception that it’s impossible to make quality craftwork pieces in environmentally conscious ways. People think that it’s hard to use sustainable methods when creating metalwork pieces, but the truth is that quality craftsmanship is a form of sustainability in itself. I think that an increasing number of consumers are learning that it’s not really economically viable to buy something cheap only to have it break and have to buy it over and over again. In a modern world where so many things seem temporary and uncertain, people want safety and security. They want products that are going to last that they don’t have to keep replacing. I think that’s an important aspect of our commitment to sustainability – our products don’t break easily. We have a lifetime warranty on our products. The longevity of our pieces and what that means for both our customers and the future of sustainable commerce makes me incredibly proud to be a part of what we’re doing here at Danforth.”