Picking Copper–Going Strong Since 1874

The company’s original logo, still used today.

Here at Lehman’s, many of the products we carry are made by small, family-owned businesses.

Yesterday, we were pleased to introduce you to one of the newest of those businesses, Little Town Granola. Today, peek into the workshop at D. Picking & Company in Bucyrus, Ohio.

Founded in 1874, D.Picking & Co. was an outgrowth of the founder’s hardware store. After realizing his tinsmiths could learn the copper trade, Picking got two master coppersmiths from the business where he was buying his copper goods to move to Bucyrus and train his staff. Today, D. Picking and Company are the only hand-made, hand-hammered copper vessel manufacturer in the United States. They have been supplying Lehman’s with handcrafted copper goods for decades.

The office at D. Picking and Co.

Office manager Sylvia Cooper gave Country Life full access to the Picking office and workshop. The front office looks like a movie set from the early 1900s. An imposing safe anchors the end of the room, and the room is filled with the elephant collection of Robert B. Picking, whose father founded the firm. Currently, D. Picking is owned by nonagenarian Helen Picking Neff, who still works every day.

“When the building was built in 1874, the safe was moved into place on rails. Then the rest of the building and the shop area was built around it,” Cooper relates. She’s been with Picking for over two decades.

Picking’s craftsmen, left to right: Steve Schiffer, John Bott, Rex Bittner, and Keith Moore.

In the shop, the craftsmen have over 100 years combined experience in coppersmithing.Their shop is an antique building, and in it, they practice what is nearly a lost art.

Steve Schiffer has been with D. Picking the longest, a 36-year employee.

Steve Schiffer works on a distillation assembly.

On his bench, he’s working on a distillation assembly, which will eventually be used in a small business to extract essential oils and flavorings from organic materials.

“I tend to do a lot of our special projects, although we all know each step of the manufacturing process. I do a lot of one-off work, a lot of specialty items.” He’s fairly quiet, and lets his work speak for itself. Currently, he’s working on a distillation assembly that will be used to extract essential oils and flavorings for a small organic-based business.

Bittner turns the bottom rim of an kettle. Later, co-worker Keith Moore will braze in the bottom piece.

Rex Bittner has been with Picking 25 years. He was working on a caramel corn kettle. “If you’d been here sooner, you could follow the assembly of a Lehman’s Apple Butter Kettle,” he teases. “We use all the old patterns too, but we have ones just for Lehman’s.” It’s clear that he loves working with his hands, and takes pride in his craft–even though, like most craftsmen, he’d be shy to admit it. It comes through in his words, though, as clearly as if he stated it outright.

“All of us know how to do everything,” says Keith Moore, a 34-year employee. “This morning, I’m doing brazing, which temporarily sets the bottom pieces in the vessels. Then I’ll be working on the forge, to seal up the kettles watertight.” The huge fuel oil-fired forge is original to the 1873 building.

Moore shows the sawtooth notches that align. A paste of borax, copper and brass shavings and water tack the piece to the flange. It’s heated to seal, and fired watertight.

“It’s pretty warm today, rainy and humid, so I won’t fire until this afternoon, once we have things to put to the fire. We have quite a few things to pattern and assemble today.”

After the bottoms are fired on, and cooled, the kettles move to the planisher for tempering, some shaping and hardening. “The plenisher hammers the copper, and hardens it,” Bittner explains. “This machine was originally used in Detroit, to shape car fenders. When the shop was electrified in 1912, having this planisher put in made things much easier for the coppersmiths.”

Upstairs,  Schiffer and John Bott work among confectioner’s pots, ladles and Lehman’s Apple Butter Kettles. “I’m adding the reinforcing ring to the top of this kettle”, said Bott. “This ring will keep the rim in the correct shape, and add stability to the entire kettle. The flared top that you see on a vessel is there for this part. The ring goes on, and we form the copper down over and under the ring by hand.”

John Bott works on a kettle rim.

He pauses to show the technique, and then goes on. “We do that for every single copper apple butter kettle we make. Big, small, whatever.” The Lehman’s Apple Butter Kettle he’s working on is a smaller size, so he can brace it on his knee to work. When he stands, to show a visitor some equipment, his jeans show the wear of being used as a workbench.

“We’re the only ones left in the country that do this kind of work,” Schiffer says. “We do everything from small decorative buckets to hand-assembled tympani shells.” Picking’s tympani are in orchestras all over the US, Japan and Europe. “Our tympani are hammered, and the resonance is even. Most are spun, and the sound isn’t good, the drums are uneven.”

All of Lehman’s Apple Butter Kettles, Flat Bottomed Copper Kettles and other handmade copper goods come from D. Picking and Company. We’re proud to partner with them as they continue to keep this craft alive. See the kettles online at www.lehmans.com. Our full line of copper goods are available at Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio.

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