„Johann Carl Schmidt“
The founding date of the Tombak smithy of Johann Carl Schmidt leads back to the eventful time of the early 19th century. It is a century of revolutions: The French Revolution and Napoleon’s occupying army moved across the Birkenfeld countryside. It is part of the French Saar department.
After the defeat of the French and the decision of the victorious powers (Congress of Vienna 1815), the “Principality of Birkenfeld” and thus also Oberstein became Oldenburg. As a relic of the French occupation, French law still prevailed and thus, at first, complete freedom of trade. This brings movement into the encrusted traditional structures of the Oberstein goldsmith trade:
For any of the previously dependent gold workers, who lived mainly from the production of agate and papier-mâché cans, petitions, buttons, pendants and other small articles in Tombak, there was now a company with a simple and inexpensive business registration.
Joh. Carl Schmidt, goldsmith, can maker and foundryman, opened his own company on the main street in Oberstein. The son of an old-established craftsman’s family, who had been working in the field since the early 17th century. In 1818, the company planned to found a “Tombak smithy” and manufacture semi-finished products for the jewellery and metal goods industry in Oberstein. Initially, the company’s main business remained the production of papier-mâché and agate cans. In order to raise capital and build up a local customer base, however, he ran a trading business for food, household goods and goldsmith’s supplies in parallel to his production operations, where his customers can write to. The young company was successful: Among other things, it participated in the “Allgemeine Deutsche Gewerbeausstellung zu Berlin” (General commercial trade fair of Berlin) in 1844. It was the only company from the Principality of Birkenfeld to be awarded the “Ehernen Preis-Medaille”.
Since he did not have the option of using water power for further mechanisation of his production of Tombak sheets and semi-finished products at the location in the main street, he planned to relocate the company to the Naheufer. From 1823 he also planned the purchase of a steam engine with which he could drive downstream machines for metal forming such as rollers, hammer mills or bellows for annealing and melting furnaces via transmissions.
In the 1820s, the company was converted into the “Tombak smithy” and became a producer of semi-finished products for the jewellery industry. This also marked the start of industrial production. This meant that transition from handicraft to serial production was based on the division of labour and above all mechanisation. Against all professional constraints, the company founder left the world of crafts behind him and, open to all technological innovations, dared to take the courageous step into the industrial age. His successful business mode as well as the persistence with which he pursued his entrepreneurial vision for decades, led to the desired goal in the 1850s with the relocation of the company to the Nahe.
Within a few decades, a pre-industrial house industry developed into the nucleus of the Idar-Oberstein jewellery and metal goods industry with many specialised micro-enterprises. Brass, tombac and nickel silver were processed and gilded with the help of mercury in the fireplace: the “Obersteiner Schorschtegold”.