Olav Grå, Silversmith and Blacksmith
Excerpts from Rikard Berge: "Norskt bondisylv"
[Norwegian bønder-made/owned silver] (Risør, 1925)
Olav Grå was a good silversmith. Some say that he came from Eastern Norway to Telemark. Others are of the opinion that he came from the area around Kongsberg; at any rate, his name was seen in connection with the Kongsberg Works (the silver mines), since he was supposed to of worked there. (1)His family came with him, his wife named Live, and some daughters. People also claim he has had descendants in Kviteseid (2) until recently. Based on all time references, it appears that he was born in the first half of the 1600's and that his greatest work activity took place beginning after about 1650. In Fjågesund in Kviteseid, Gråsvoll still carries his name, and when we keep in mind that one Jakob Gråsvoll in Sandsver in the 1620's discovered the *Kongsberg mine and that his father took this discovery to a silver smith there in the village, our thought process easily pick up Olav Grå; there may be a connection between the names. If Olav Grå was that silver smith, then he is the first one to get into trouble because he took advantage of the silver in Kongsberg. One thing is certain; all folk tales in Telemark agree that Olav Grå was a fugitive, that he worked illegally and consequently had to work as a smith secretly, and flee from place to place. Keeping track of him as he moved around, finding out where he came first, where he came last, is not easy.
The first time we hear about Olav Grå is probably in the story about the Vreim mine in Bø.(3) Sveinung Vreim had found silver vein on his property, Store Vreim and instead of reporting the finding to the government, he kept it hidden as carefully as he could. He found out about Olav Grå, "a silver smith who had worked at the mint works in Kongsberg" and sent for him. They made a contract, and Olav Grå stood in a dug-out making all kinds of silver items; it was even claimed that he made coins. This dugout was excavated in the hill so close to the house itself that there was a hallway (under ground) between the basement in the house and the earth cellar. The mine itself was close enough so that "when they stood in the attic (in the Vreim loft), they could look straight into the opening. There were, to be sure, some who hinted that there was no mine there, and that the silver came from the Kongsberg mines. Others were of the opinion that the silver vein was substantial. "And it was said, also, that they saw the silver vein going down to the river towards the Baksås side, (4) like two big logs.
1 cf. Karl Reynols in "Varden" Feb. 13, 1912, 37.
Of Olav Grå's works from that period are known of only one single item, a knife with silver ferrules fig. 14). As pictured:
The ferrules have been cut off; they had been twice as wide
and had probably the same measurements as t.LXXX, fig.1 They have wavy
engravings on them, but these have mostly worn off. The present owner writes
about the knife: I remember well that my father at that time (thirty five years
ago) said that "the knife is two hundred years old and made by Olav Grå who gave
it to mother's grandmother who, as a little girl brought him food to him in his
dug out". My father also said that the knife's silver ferrules originally were
supposed to have been twice as wide as they are now. In my childhood the knife
had a fairly narrow, somewhat thick and worn out blade, but when my brother,
Olav Sigelhus in Bø, gave it to me in 1905, he ha(?) had a new blade installed.
It is probable that Olav Grå worked all kinds of silver when he was in the Vreim cellar, but his fame came mostly from the mint work. The only ones who knew about the silver smith were the Vreim people. Never the less it got around the village. People would see lights there and hammering at night, and talk about this spread like a grass fire. Finally the government found out about it. It is said that some important fellow was going by. He heard "silver picking" and he reported it. As soon as Sveinung heard about it, he had the mine and the earth cellar work area filled with loads of marshy dirt and sod and the horses worked so hard that one of them collapsed in the marsh. To this very day this marsh is called Sprengsmyr ("Break-down Marsh"). The workers had to swear not to say a word, and Olav Grå left Bø township.
1 Letter to the author from Hans Espedal dated Oct. 8, 1919.
The lensmann and a man from Borgja who accompanied him now came to Vreim to search for the mine and the silver. They looked inside and outside, but found nothing. Then the other fellow noticed a copper kettle full of money, standing in the entry way to the bath house; they say that he and Sveinung were buddies, and that he therefore helped hide the kettle of money by throwing a pile of flax on it. But in the middle of the night the Borgja fellow came and got the kettle, and after that the Vreim man never saw any more of his silver. No doubt he knew who the thief was, but when he demanded to get his silver, the other fellow man threatened to report him; and so Sveinung had to keep silent. From this day on the Borgja man was rolling in money.(1) This Sveinung lived in the second half of the second half of the 1600's.(2)
Many have later tried to rediscover the mine. A widow from Siglhus had been a servant girl on the gard during the time Olav Grå worked there. (3) Her son tried so hard to convince her to tell where the mine was located, but she had sworn a solemn oath to keep silent, she said. about it. They got this much out of her: "When I stand by the handrail to the steel shed, I can see where the silver was taken out". When there was a hearing in the affair many years later, she was the only survivor of those who knew about it. They kept pestering her for so long about pointing out the place, that she at last promised to do so. "I can't point to the place or tell you exactly, but I shall throw something over to where it is." She was in poor health at that time so she had to ride horseback, but on the way there, she took ill, and they found her dead in the dell below the gard.
Since then they have found certain hints of the silver and the mine at Vreim. They found silver goblets and other fine things, even silver spools; so Olav Grå was not stingy with the silver. One by the name of Hallvord Smed (Smith) wanted to find out if there was any truth to the folk tale; he started digging in a hollow in the hill right next to the Vreim home. The hollow had become deeper, gradually, and therefore they believed that this was the location of the workshop. Hallvord did indeed find melting pots and other parts of the smithy.----- Around 1852 Rolleiv Vreim was plowing in that same hill; the horse fell through, and there was such a hole that the measuring pole went all the way down. They then found an earthen cabin with log walls, and on the floor were lots of cinders and broken glass. There are some who say that they found silver buttons marked S.V. (4)
1 Some say that it was the man who accompanied the lensmann
who took kettle (Varden Feb. 13, 1912, 37 ect.
It is obvious that there is some substance to the claim that Olav Grå worked with silver in his earth cellar at Vreim. H.N. Tvedten says "It has always been fairly certain that one Olav Grå worked on silver at Vreim, but whether the silver came from Kongsberg or from the Vreim mine, the opinions have been divided. It is beyond dispute that there are clear veins in the mountain near Vreim, but whether those carry silver or not has not so far been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. (1) In a document Sveinung Vreim is called "The silver man from Vreim" and no doubt that refers to his silver smith activities.
Where Olav Grå went after leaving Bø is not clear. But it seems reasonable that it was then that he fled across Fjågesund in Kviteseid. On Gråsvoll-odden (point of land, peninsula) he had a cabin where he lived, and he also had a smithy there. Gråvsvoll, which now is a gard by itself, is named after him. He found his silver in the Myrkevats River (Dark-Water River) a mile-and-a-half from Grå; others say that he found it in a mountain near Gråsvoll. It is straight across from Jutulbruplassen, but on the west side of the fjord , and it is still called Gråsvollberge. Out in Grimenes they found a pot after him which they assumed he had used as a melting pot. But here, too, he was pursued. They would hear hammering at night or late in the evening, those who were rowing by. If anyone was curious enough to stop and go in, the silver smith just stood there hammering on a horse shoe or some other piece of iron. They caught on to that the chopping block (under his anvil) was hollow and that he hid the silver and his tools there. Later it came out that he also had a hiding place under the floor of his smithy. A few times the authorities tried to catch him unawares; once the bailiff came upon him suddenly and they thought they had caught the bird; but he was making horseshoe nails.
However, in the end he got in trouble. He was working on a silver tankard for a long time, hiding it inside the chopping block every time someone would come, but in the end he had to throw it into the fjord south of Gråvsvoll-tangen (point of land, peninsula). The rocky point is to this day called the Silver-can Rock. It appears that he has continued his counterfeit activities because the silver tankard was full of coins when it sank we are told by the most reliable historians. He was rolling on and flush with money at all times. (2) After the silver smith had sunk his tankard, he found it prudent to leave Fjågesund, and he therefore fled to the Staumstaul(3) area in Kviteseid.
1 Tales from Telemark, pages 20-21.
There he dug himself a cabin in the ground for a smithy. Also there, the name Gråvsvoll, named after him. It is said, also, that he did prospecting in the Nordskog area in Morgedal. But he was not left alone any place, and so he moved to Tveit in the Tveit neighborhood (Kviteseid, 1) and this Tveit was for ages referred to in everyday speech as Grås-Tveit; that name is no longer in use. But the heath from Tveit neighborhood all the way to the Raudberg Peak still has that name and is called the Grås-Tveit Heath. There, to the north, he found silver. He had been prospecting many places in that area. Drilled holes are visible in the rocks (mountains) all the way from Tvestedalen to the very top. They talked about the Tvestedal mine (in the Braut area) after him; it is certain, however, that he found silver in the Drithol ( a vulgar name for the rectum) mine up under the Raudberg Peak. It is clearly visible that ore was extracted there in the old days, and the substance is supposed to have been galena with silver in it. Many were of the opinion that he had found a mine below the Tveit Loft also.(2) This "Loft" was at that time dug into the hill and there was a level area below; there are still visible signs after it, with wooden steps cut out of a single log. He used the steps to reach the level area. The truth is no doubt that this is where he had his smithy.
Also here he was under observation so that he had to close off the opening to the flat area and the smithy. He did not stop making coins, and it is said that he became so rich that he redeemed Tveit three times. That is no doubt just fiction; but it seems quite certain that he was arrested because of his mint making. The folk tale maintains that they were unable to prove anything against him. They say he made up a little song then:
My name is Olav Grås-Tveit
No one knows what happened to Olav Gra in the end. Possibly he died in Kviteseid, possibly he fled. An unreliable source said he fled from Tveit to Sauherad and later over to England, where he died, and where there was a great inheritance after him. (3)
The story that he was the owner Flekketveit is also uncertain. It is possible that he worked both by Gullnes and Mosanapp and that he would then go through Kviteseid on the way according to a historian. (4) But it is equally reasonable to believe that this refers to the ordinary main road.
1 Here a historian ("historians" here refer to local people
with an interest in local events and tales of the past) is mixing up the story
of Olav Grå with the folk tale about the robber, Hilde, who used to hang out in
the Tveit Loft (cf. this folk tale in "Norig" 1st yr., 4).
One thing is certain: Olav Grå did live, he was a silver smith, and a counterfeiter and carried out his activities in Vreim, in Fjågesund and Tveit. The special characteristics of the tales, the many place names after him, the visible signs left of his earth cellars, and not the least, exact silver items made by him are all indications of this. In addition to the knife we mentioned, people also known of silver buttons with his mark, O.G. and a special type of filigree work. I have not seen these, but there is no reason to doubt it. Finally, his descendants ought to be an unmistakable proof, also. Here, too, there is a curious conformity between the tales and written sources. At Tveit and on the place (small cotter's place) Finnkosi under Tveit, the names Jan, Olav and Verner (in Kviteseid Varn) are found in the first part of the 1700's. In 1712 "Verner Olsen" rents the gard, and he is possibly a son of Olav Grå. Jan and Verner are foreign (i.e. "new") names and indicate people who have moved in. (1)
It makes it even more reasonable to believe that Olav Grå had some connection with Tveit since the same family continued to own (2) it. Taken as a whole, it is not only reasonable, but certain that Olav Grå is the person the tales claim he was.
What is less certain is whether he worked from silver mines.
There are many indications pointing to the possibility that he was a worker in
the Kongsberg silver mines who had broken the law and had to flee and therefore
continued working in silver independently and illegally. If he did in fact make
silver coins, this made him even more of a criminal, and if he was dishonest to
that extent, it is quite reasonably to expect him to work on silver stolen from
the Kongsberg mines. In order to hide his theft, he allowed tales about mines
around the places where he worked to come out.
1 Lars Vernersson (died 1744) and Jan Vernersson (died 1752)
both live at Finnkosi, are brothers, and the oldest son of both is named Olav.
This Verner Finnkosi may very well be the son of Olav Grå.
Comments by Telelaget's Genealogist, Darrel Johnson:
The origins of Olav Grå are unknown but these are two of the
theories that exist:
2. Excerpts from a letter from Jorunn Fossberg, [leader of Norsk Folkmuseum's research on Norwegian goldsmiths, their works and their marks, and through years has examined large quantities of unpublished material] suggests that Olav Grå could be Danish.
Ole Graa is actually an enigmatic person, and Rikard Berge has made him even more so. More hard facts about him:
The above mentioned facts lead me to believe that Olle Graa primarily was occupied at the iron mines, but this profession also gave him insight into the goldsmith's profession. Personally I think he is a Dane, probably acquainted with the Danish owners of the Fossum work, one of the owners being the Danish goldsmith Johan Post and his son, Henrik Post. The first Norwegian master of the Mint (at work between 1628-1642), who was a distinguished goldsmith as well, was also "participant" of the corporation owning the Norwegian silver, copper and iron mines.
In other words: I think Olle Graa was an immigrant to Norway, probably a Dane, and professionally trained as a blacksmith, or/and even as a goldsmith.
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