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Henry P. Hopkins Jr., noted Baltimore silversmith artisan, dies

Henry P. Hopkins Jr., noted Baltimore silversmith artisan, dies
Henry P. Hopkins Jr. a silversmith who created hand-crafted jewelry in his Lovegrove Alley studio for decades, died June 17 at age 100. (Handout)

Henry P. Hopkins Jr., a noted Baltimore silversmith who fashioned university presidential insignia, chalices, crosses and hand-crafted jewelry for decades from his 19th century Mount Vernon studio, died in his sleep June 17 at his Roland Park home.

He was 100.

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Dr. Earl P. Galleher Jr., a retired Baltimore urologist who lives in Lutherville, said he knew Mr. Hopkins through their mutual membership at Maryland Club, and called his friend “a really nice man and a thorough gentleman. I always had nice talks with him. He just couldn’t have been nicer.”

The son of Henry Powell Hopkins, an architect, and Constance Medea Hummel Hopkins, a homemaker, Henry Powell Hopkins Jr. was born in New York City. His family moved to Roland Park to a home on Elwood Road that his father had designed, and he lived there much of his life.

He attended St. Paul’s School, and graduated in 1935 from the Gow School in South Wales, N.Y.

His interest in learning the art of silversmithing began during his junior year at St. Paul’s, when he took a job at S. Kirk & Sons, America’s oldest silversmith, in a department that did chasing — the art of detailing surfaces with hammer-struck punches. S. Kirk & Sons had been founded in Baltimore in 1815. Mr. Hopkins enjoyed the work so much he went back the next summer.

He began his college studies at the Maryland Institute College of Art, but interrupted those studies to enlist in the Navy. While serving aboard a converted yacht assigned to patrol duty off the coast of Panama, Mr. Hopkins spent shore leave studying in a jewelry shop.

“I wandered in there one day out of curiosity, and it was the beginning of a wonderful friendship with a man who taught me to do filigree work and to make gold chains,” he told The Baltimore Sun in 1951. “At first I just sat next to him on his bench and observed. He later invited me to make designs of my own.”

Mr. Hopkins was later assigned to the heavy cruiser USS Houston as a gunner’s mate in the Pacific Theater, and after World War II he attended the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts, graduating with highest honors and winning the Prix de Rome for his goblet and chalice designs.

“By the time I was a civilian again I was more interested than ever in jewelry and silversmithing,” he told The Sun.

A traveling scholarship allowed Mr. Hopkins to do additional study in Copenhagen, Stockholm, London, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Paris before returning to his father’s home, where he began his professional career.

“In the basement of his home he shapes by hand — from sterling silver discs and squares — teapots, trays, dishes, cups, gravy boats, candlesticks and bowls of a weight and durability seldom found in commercial goods,” according to the 1951 article in The Sun.

In 1951, Mr. Hopkins moved to a former carriage house in Lovegrove Street.

The space “had been converted into a practice studio for a pianist and held a grand piano,” said his son, Henry P. “Hoppy” Hopkins III, who learned silversmithing from his father and now operates the business. He lives in an apartment above the studio.

The elder Mr. Hopkins’ working attire included a long smock and a head-worn magnifier which allowed him to do his detailed and exacting work. For background, he liked to listen to the BBC and Radio Europe on a bulky Zenith shortwave radio, his son said.

Mr. Hopkins told The Sun that while he used electricity and air conditioning, he preferred writing letters with a quill pen. One corner of the room held several tree trunks where silver was pounded, and in the center of the room was a “drawing bench” used for extruding silver wire. Other necessary tools of his trade included a chasing ball he used to decorate silver.

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“Paul Revere would be completely at ease here,” the article said.

“Some of my friends say I’m a throwback to the colonial days since I like handwrought things,” he said. “It’s a long process … but in the handwrought method versus the commercial process of spinning you get the weight because you have to use heavier metal by hand.”

Mr. Hopkins was known not only for restoring battered silver teapots or spoons brought to his studio for repair, but also for the maces and insignia he created for the Johns Hopkins University, Washington College, the University of Pennsylvania and Loyola University Maryland, to name a few.

He also fabricated chalices, crosses and altar pieces for churches and cathedrals across the country and even custom-made medical equipment for Johns Hopkins Hospital specialists, his son said.

“He worked until he was in his early 90s, and when he was 96 was still coming to the shop,” his son said.

John E. Pforr, a Mays Chapel resident, was a friend and customer for more than 30 years.

”He’d repair damaged silver spoons that had been caught in the disposal for me, and they looked brand new with a little price tag right next to them,” he said, with a laugh. “Henry was a gentle soul and a quite man. He was positive and always very calm and collected. He was not opinionated and was soft-spoken. He was respected for the way he spoke and dressed.”

Mr. Hopkins was a longtime member of the Maryland Club, where he could be seen almost daily strolling down Lovegrove Alley dressed in conservatively cut suits — dark in the winter and seersucker in the summer — on his way to lunch with fellow club members.

“He was the elder statesman of the Maryland Club,” said Walter Schamu, an architect, club member and Federal Hill resident who is a partner in the firm of SM+P Architects. “He also wore an English bowler in the winter and a stiff straw in the summer. He was always dressed to the nines.”

Mr. Hopkins was a supporter of local theater and enjoyed attending Center Stage, the Vagabonds, Spotlighters and Everyman Theatre. For years, he was a member of Baltimore’s Paint and Powder Club, and performed in its annual fundraising musicals.

“When he got too old to dance, they put him on the stage crew,” his son said. “He was a member of the Paint and Powder lunch group that met for years at Peppermill and the City Cafe.”

He also enjoyed reading, especially history and biography pieces, and liked photography and growing orchids.

Mr. Hopkins was a member of the Society of Colonial Wars, the Sons of the American Revolution, the Society of the War of 1812 and the Rotary Club of Baltimore.

Mr. Hopkins stopped smoking his ever-present pipe when he turned 60. He was a moderate drinker, his son said, preferring a glass of Dubonet, a little wine, or just “one old-fashioned.”

Years ago, he began practicing yoga and walked all over downtown Baltimore, eschewing public transit.

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“We were living in Dickeyville then, and every morning he blew a bosun’s whistle — left over from his Navy days — when it was time to get up. He’d say to me and my sister, ‘Time to get up! Hit the deck,’ ” his son recalled.

“We’d come downstairs and he’d be standing on his head telling us that breakfast was ready,” his son said laughing. “It really was a magical childhood.”

Mr. Hopkins liked Chinese food and relaxing in hammocks — he had one inside his home.

“He was a real craftsman throughout his life,” his son said. “He liked tinkering with things and taking them apart.”

Services are private.

In addition to his son, he is survived by a daughter, Martha M. Hopkins of Gardenville, and several cousins. His marriage to the former Barbara Louise Wirths ended in divorce.

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