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Author Topic:   Gold on silver

Posts: 1502
Registered: May 99

iconnumber posted 07-26-2001 10:57 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Brent     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Gold has long been used as an accent or protective coating on fine silverware. Usually this is achieved by plating, either mercury gilding or, since about 1850, electroplating.

In the Victorian era, companies like Tiffany, Gorham, Whiting and Shiebler produced silver with gold accents applied with other methods. As I understand it, some gold accents were achieved through electrotyping, while others were formed separately and soldered on.

My questions are these.

  1. Is there any way to tell whether a gold accent is gilt, electrotyped, or solid?

  2. Which companies used which methods, or did they all experiment with a variety of techniques?

  3. What other companies, besides those mentioned above, made mixed-metal pieces? I am thinking of flatware in particular.

I look forward to any information you can provide.


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Posts: 55
Registered: Jul 2001

iconnumber posted 07-26-2001 11:58 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Martine     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The factory marks should give an indication whether an item is truly mixed metals or just parcel gilt or plated. The phrase "sterling and other metals" (Tiffany, Gorham & Whiting) or "silver and copper" (Heinrich) was used by several Victorian companies. The Shiebler pieces with the gold patches of overlay have a special code are marked sterling & 14Kt and have numbers ending in an "X".

Dominick & Haff made mixed metal flatware and holloware also. I have seem Kennard & Jenks mixed metal holloware.

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Paul Lemieux

Posts: 1768
Registered: Apr 2000

iconnumber posted 07-26-2001 09:19 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Paul Lemieux     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Durgin made some mixed metal flatware, with brass and copper applied to hammered silver. Joseph Seymour also appears to have made a limited amount. I once saw some mixed metal coffee spoons at auction marked by Duhme. However, from the listing, it was unclear if they were the makers or only the retailers.

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William Hood

Posts: 271
Registered: Apr 2000

iconnumber posted 07-27-2001 10:06 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for William Hood     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
It is my understanding that Tiffany never used solid gold as an appliqué on flatware (because it would have been prohibitively expensive). I think that Tiffany's "gold" appliqués were electrotyped in sterling and then gilded, i.e., goldplated, to minimize the amount of gold used. Tiffany never marked flatware with such appliqués as "STERLING & OTHER METALS." This term was reserved for the combination of silver and metals such as copper or mokume. The companies you cited also used "gold" appliqués, but I am unsure what techniques they might have employed.

The definition of the term "mixed metals" is another issue. It is commonly used, as you did, to mean the independent use of silver and other metals on the same piece, but as used by Carpenter this term was applied to chemical alloys such as shakudo or shibuichi or physical mixtures such as mokume. Somehow we need to resolve this.

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Posts: 55
Registered: Jul 2001

iconnumber posted 07-27-2001 11:37 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Martine     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Well, there is a nice piece of Tiffany holloware at auction (1450599983) right now with real applied mixed metals. It's a bit small and the decoration is rubbed, but it is still a cool piece.

I am thinking also that flatware does not have much surface area to encourage lengthy marks. Also, as the flatware marks of this period were impressed and another step in the finishing process AND this was America (and not fussy England with their assay offices), the manufacturers again saw no need for more than "sterling" as a mark on some of this flatware.

I am playing with one of my favorite Tiffany spoons with an applied copper cherry blossom branch wrapped around the handle and it is only marked "sterling". It does however have teeny numbers next to the marks.

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William Hood

Posts: 271
Registered: Apr 2000

iconnumber posted 07-28-2001 05:58 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for William Hood     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Despite the assurances of the seller on eBay that the Tiffany sugar bowl is "guaranteed to be as described," there is no way he could know with absolute assurance that the body of the grasshoper and accents on the iris are of "solid 14K gold" without destroying the decoration to assay its composition. I think the gold accents are electrotyped silver that have then been gilded. The mark "... and other metals" refers to the copper. Tiffany was not always consistent in its markings, and there may certainly be spoons with copper appliqués where this marking is not present.

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Scott Martin
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Posts: 11377
Registered: Apr 93

iconnumber posted 07-29-2001 11:39 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Scott Martin     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Actually there is a way that may give you a good idea if there is any solid gold in this piece. Anyone could use the non-invasive (non-destructive) specific gravity test which is described in detail in our book, The Guide to Evaluating Gold and Silver Objects. Gold has a heavier specific gravity than silver. If the cup has a specific gravity heavier than sterling silver, it might be reasonable to speculate that the grasshopper and accents are some form of solid gold. Personally, I agree with Dr. Hood in believing the gold is electroplate or gilding.

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