Silver & Silverplate
Ever since it was discovered silver, like gold has been converted into gleaming artefacts of great splendour and beauty. Such symbols of wealth and power are collected not only for their superb workmanship, but smaller more ornate pieces also have a unique attraction. This is in part because silver has always been a precious metal. The intrinsic value of silver has had one undesirable effect, silver objects have long been regarded as recyclable and thousands of pieces have been lost over the centuries, melted down to finance wars, to cover up theft, or simply to make something more fashionable.
Silver in its natural state is 99% pure and is too soft and malleable to be used effectively for any practical purposes. It is alloyed with copper or zinc to toughen it up. Sterling Silver is 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% copper. It melts at 894 degrees Centigrade. Sterling Silver is one of the most popular metals in the jewellery trade, and people with allergies to other metals can safely use this metal. A multi-faceted metal, it is used extensively for coins, utensils, storage containers, jewellery and other decorative pieces.
The term "Sheffield Plate" is widely used these days by those dealing in electroplate produced in Sheffield, and most collectors prefer to use the term "Old Sheffield Plate" to identify the early fused plate product. Another misuse of the term is in describing "Close Plated" ware, which was generally made in Birmingham in the first half of the 1800s. The close plate consists of silver foil soldered onto a steel base and was used for items such as candle snuffers or cutlery requiring greater strength than the fused plate.
In the 1830s George Richard Elkington and his brother Henry Elkington patented the process for electroplating silverand by the 1840s had perfected the techniques to make them famous. Electroplate or silverplate was a completely different process from Sheffield plate. Instead of fusing two or three pieces of metal, the method used electricity to deposit pure silver onto a base metal. Various base metals were used but “nickel silver,” an alloy of copper, zinc and nickel, proved to be the best for electroplating.
Makers, Marks & Symbols
Precious metals in the UK are controlled and marked by law. Silverplate pieces were not subject to this control regime so some pieces have marker marks whilst others are entirely unmarked. To make matters worse some manufacturers used marks on their silver-plated pieces similar to sterling silver hallmarks, whilst others only used figural symbols, so proceed with caution.