NORDBECK, PETER, silversmith and jeweller; b. 1789 in Germany, probably in Hanover; d. 7 Feb. 1861 in Halifax, N.S.
After serving the customary seven-year apprenticeship, Peter Nordbeck worked as a journeyman with silversmiths in Germany. By 1814 he had emigrated and settled in the British West Indies. Five years later he moved to Halifax and commenced business as a goldsmith and silversmith, entering into partnership with another capable silversmith, Henry Mignowitz, in 1824. This partnership was soon dissolved, but in August 1827 he formed Nordbeck and Company with Mignowitz and Robert Clarke as partners. Although Clarke soon left, Nordbeck and Mignowitz worked together until 1829.
Nordbeck’s wife Caroline died in 1832, and in 1833 he married Grace, widow of John Langford, a London goldsmith who had worked in Halifax from 1809 until 1815. Nordbeck took her young son, James I. Langford, as an apprentice until in 1838 Langford set up on his own. Nordbeck also trained several other notable silversmiths, including Michael Septimus Brown*, William Veith, and George Witham.
During the 1820s Nordbeck made some jewellery and a quantity of table silver, varying this work with such excellent pieces as a snuff box, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England. After 1830 Nordbeck produced many notable examples of church communion silver, chalices, ciboriums, and patens, as well as large presentation goblets, tankards, mugs, and domestic silver. In 1832 he advertised that he had imported from England a patent “fly-press” enabling him “to make ‘King’s Pattern’ plate of every description, also to strike up medals and ornaments of every sort.” A wood-engraving shows the device with a large fly-wheel on a threaded shaft which drove the iron moulds down with great force. He may also have used it in producing brooches, lockets, and other pieces of gold and silver jewellery, many still treasured today. Several dated pieces, a magnificent gold and silver chalice with a gold paten for St Peter’s Church, Pubnico, N.S., in 1835, and silver goblets presented as trophies for yacht races in 1836 and 1837, give some indication of the progress of his craftsmanship. Nordbeck also made regular crossings to England to select fine goods for import, and his advertisements in the press show the variety of his stock.
On 9 Sept. 1859 fire destroyed his premises along with most of the business district of Halifax. Soon afterwards Nordbeck with other leading merchants commenced rebuilding Granville St, “at a cost and in a style far beyond the requirements of this city,” according to Thomas Beamish Akins*. The rows of stone buildings with ingeniously varied fenestration of their Italianate façades comprise one of the few homogeneous blocks of early business buildings remaining in Canada.
Peter Nordbeck only occupied his fine new premises for a short time before his death at age 72. The interior of his store with its ornate gesso ceilings, carved pinewood decorations, and soaring Corinthian columns, remains almost intact over a century after he opened it.
[Examples of Peter Nordbeck’s work in silver may be seen in the Provincial Museum of Nova Scotia (Halifax), the Canadiana Gallery of the Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto), the Victoria and Albert Museum (London), and the Henry Birks Collection (Montreal). d.c.m.]
N.S., Provincial Museum and Science Library, Report (Halifax), 1934–38. J. E. Langdon, Canadian silversmiths, 1700–1900 (Toronto, 1966). D. C. Mackay, Silversmiths and related craftsmen of the Atlantic provinces (Halifax, 1973). Harry Piers and D. C. Mackay, Master goldsmiths of Nova Scotia and their marks (Halifax, 1948). T. B. Akins, “History of Halifax City,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., VIII (1895). D. C. Mackay, “Goldsmiths and silversmiths,” Canadian Antiques Collector (Toronto), 7 (February 1972), 22–26.