The story of Taxco can be told three parts, each one revolving around a central figure arriving in Mexico at two hundreds year intervals: Hernan Cortes (arriving in 1521), Don Jose de la Borda (arriving in 1761), and William Spratling (arriving in 1920). Each of their stories sets the stage for today’s silver industry. Telling their stories adds as much value to each piece of jewelry as the silver itself.
Pre-Columbian records tells us that the rich veins of gold and silver running through Mexico were mined by the natives and used to pay tribute to their Aztecs Rulers. But Hernan Cortes’ arrival in 1521, and the subsequent battle fought and won by the Spaniards, gave Spain, and Cortes himself, claim to the mines in Taxco. The conquering soldiers built the earliest homes and churches as well as the aqueducts that supplied the water needed to extract silver from ore, and shipped tons of their treasures back to the Crown1. By the end of the century Taxco had become Spain’s primary source of silver and precious metals in the New World. As richer and more accessible mines were discovered, the demand for silver from Cortez’s mines dwindled and they were eventually shuttered.
In 1716 a Spaniard named Don Jose de la Borda was allegedly wandering about the hills of Taxco when he spotted a rich silver vein running across the surface. He struck his fortune there, and in gratitude used most of his money to build the original infrastructure of the city, i.e., schools, roads, houses, etc. His greatest gift to the city was the stunning Santa Prisca Cathedral. Often referred to as the “Father” of Taxco, Don Borda built the foundation of today’s Taxco. Other successful miners followed his lead – building their own lavish homes and beautiful churches in and around the small town.
But in the 19th century, during Mexico’s War for Independence, these Spanish barons destroyed their mines rather than lose them to the revolutionaries, and left the country in ruin. With the mines destroyed, the silver industry again fell silent as the newly formed government began building their new society.
The highway system from Mexico City finally reached Taxco in the early 1920’s, and in 1926, William Spratling – a U.S. Citizen and associate professor of architecture from Tulane University, arrived in Taxco to find a quiet place to study and pursue his goal of a writing career. Being an artist himself, he quickly came to admire the aesthetic talents of the Mexican people, and found himself writing about their history and talents rather than pursuing his own studies. To make ends meet, he sent those stories back to as many of the periodicals as would publish him.
It was through conversation and the encouragement of his friends at the American Embassy that he took the first steps of building and nurturing a center for the Mexican craftsmen. With his help, the locals reopened the mines and set the miners to work and Spratling invited a well-known goldsmith in Iguala to come and help him teach the art of silversmithing. Together, they established an apprentice program using Spratling’s designs, but then encouraged their young protégé’s to create their own designs by drawing inspiration from their Aztec and Mayan cultures. Mr. Spratling travelled extensively through the remotest regions of Mexico, seeking out the craftsmen in each village and buying their treasures. He sent many of those pieces back to the States where they made their way to the finest department stores, and an audience quickly developed. The craftsmen and women from all across Mexico soon began arriving at his doorstep with their families, looms, pottery wheels and household goods all loaded in primitive wagons and carts, ready for work.
It was the war in Europe that finally opened the doors wide to the Mexican Arts and Crafts movement. Americans had always looked to Europe for fine jewelry and the highest quality household goods, but the war scattered the European craftsmen and decimated their supplies and materials. Spratling’s steady stream of publicity, and the jewelry and textiles that he sent back, were a welcome alternative. Their organic designs were a compliment to the Arts and Crafts movement here in the States.
Taxco was soon flourishing again, with an entire industry and economy developing around the designs of their gifted young Tallers who, in turn, opened their own workshops and stores. Taxco became a popular destination for both the tourists who enjoyed the spectacular beauty of the region, and the wholesale buyers who brought back suitcases full of merchandise to the shopkeepers eager for beautiful jewelry, textiles, and the unique plateware being produced there.
William Spratling died in a car accident in 1967, and the mines in Taxco were eventually exhausted and closed for good, but the industry continues2. The economy of Taxco, now home to more than 50,000 residents, still revolves around tourism and the hundreds of silversmiths who still call Taxco home. Taxco’s rich history is still evident. A visitor can still walk the ancient cobblestone streets through a labrynth of white stucco buildings with red-tile roofs, sit quietly in the beautiful Santa Prisca Cathedral, or visit the former home of Sr Borda’s. But the city is always busy – Parades of school children, tour groups, festive bands, and funeral processions all share the narrow streets daily with a never ending stream of VW cabs and busses, all ferrying their passengers in and around the city.
The Mexican Silver Industry faces an overwhelming share of challenges. To be sure, some of those challenges were of their own making, but they are also competing with an avalanche of off-shore importers who supply a much lower cost, lesser grade jewelry to a society that often values quantity over quality.
At Sterling Silver from Taxco, we know these challenges full well, but our love for the city, its history, and the people we work with overrides all the annoyances. Above all, we don’t want you to forget how substantial and good a piece of handmade sterling silver jewelry feels in your hand. We are proud to offer some of the best jewelry from the brightest stars in Taxco, Mexico.
1. Several of the buildings built back in 1534, including the old convent and portions of the original aqueduct, still stand today.
2. Their silver is now mined in other regions of Mexico.
TAXCO AND ITS ORIGINS: JAIME CASTROJON DIEZ
The Legend and reality of the Mines
An Indian Legend describes the accidental discovery of silver. Several Tlahuica hunters were pursuing a huge deer. It was so big that no one remembered ever seeing one of its size. It led them to Atachi Hill, where Taxco now stands. The hunters finally caught up with it late in the day and killed it. Most of the meat was salted and dried in the sun to be taken home, but they kept one huge leg to be eaten that night in celebration, but the fire. While they roasted the meat, they noticed that around the fire the stones glowed, sparkled and melted. The following morning they discovered a circle of silver where the fire had been. Frrom that day onward, silver was sought on that mountain.
Silver mines were one of the main attractions for the Spaniards. However, the conquistadors came to Taxco in search of another metal for their cannons: tin!
The first silver mines were discovered around Taxco in 1534 by Juan de Cabra and Juan de Salcedo. Spaniards brought Indians to Taxco to work the mines; they were given lodgings in the neighborhoods no San Miguel and Guadalupe. The mining prosperity of the district is confirmed in a letter to the King written by Pedro de Menenses on Feb 27. 1552. Taxco was the poorest and most despised of polaces, as were its people, and there was nothing there but some hills and henequen plants of little worth. IT then came about that silver and gold mines were discovered there and in the district/
In 1539 regulatioons prohibited the exploitation of Indians as mine workers – it was requir4ed that they be paid a salary. Mine owners solvd the problem by importing Black slaves as the cheapest way to develop mining in New Spain. In 1579 in a mining population of 1000 inhavitants, two thirds were slaves.
Blacks revolted and fled to the west coast. By the end of the 16th centure blacks had completely disappeared from the mining region.
Don Josse de la Bord was almost 50 years old and the most respected citizen of Taxco when he asked the ecclesiastical authorities for permission to byuiuld a new church. He demanded that no other person, whatever rank or status, may interfere 9even under religious or secular pretexts) with any stage of the construction until it is finally completed and dedicated. In Feb 1751 permission was granted, hundreds of laborers immediately set to work and the church was completed in 1759.
Santa Prisca protects against lighning and storms, which are especially frequent in this mountain region. Borda chose her as the patron of the new church. Hi sson took charge of the Parish as priest on March 6 1759.
“It is impossible to imagine beings more whimsical or haphazard than the streets of Taxco. They hate the mathematical fidelity of straight lines; they detest the lack of spirit in anything horizontal. Her ein Taxco, streets lead forward, rise, drop, twist to the left, then wind to the right; they suddently rear up a ravine or return repentfully to where they started. Who said streets were invented to go from one place to another, or to provide access to houses? The streets of Tasco happen to be irrational entities, which justifies their existence even more than if they were rational. . . .All streets in Tasco assume the form of a ramp; though at an incline of 45 degrees, heels are forced to tear into the cobbled spaces like claws.
When it rains:
Tasco steps out to wash its face. Within minutes the streets are flooded with darting rivulets which soon become torrents.