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Author Topic:   Questions about old Sheffield Plate
Scott Martin
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iconnumber posted 02-18-2006 09:30 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Scott Martin     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have few questions about old Sheffield Plate.

  1. What is the typical thickness of the silver layer in Sheffield Plate?
  2. What purity is the silver layer; .999, .925 or ????
  3. And if .925 (or less) is it safe to assume that this is why Sheffield Plate seems to last longer than electroplate?
  4. or is the longer shelf life attributable to the extra thickness of the fused silver?
  5. or both?

Thanks

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Dale

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iconnumber posted 02-18-2006 12:03 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dale     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I doubt that there is a standard or typical thickness for Sheffield plate. It appears to vary considerably depending on maker and type of piece. Trays, I suspect, got a heavier cover than decorative items. To get a firm answer, one would need to dig out old instructional manuals and makers' records.

The silver used is suppossed to be 925 fine; standard English silver.

My suspicion would be that the reason for the longer shelf life, if indeed this is the case, is that Sheffield makers were artisans who produced for a market that demanded traditional, long lasting items. Electroplaters were experimenters whose customers were not in for the long haul; they wanted new and exciting.

One feature to keep in mind: electroplate can have its silver renewed. This is not true of Sheffield plate. So, there was no real incentive for Elkington etc. to make long term items. They would simply advertize a replate feature.

My frame on this would be: the difference between Sheffield and electroplate is that Sheffield has a large sunk cost of labor and skill in it. Electroplate does not, which is why it rapidly surrplanted Sheffield. The cost differential related to the need for shelf life.

In Victorian times, a piece of electroplate would probably last 15 to 25 years. Which was a generation or two in terms of style. By the time the wedding silver began to wear, there would be new and exciting designs on the market. The old could always be renewed with plating; or replaced by the more up to the minute styles.

Question: is there some compelling reason electroplate should have a long shelf life? I can't think of one. Unless the market for silver is thought to be for unchanging designs.

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swarter
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iconnumber posted 02-18-2006 12:30 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for swarter     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Since Old Sheffield is made beating a sheet of silver onto the base metal, the silver layer is considerably thicker than electroplating, which only deposits molecules of silver and can be very thin.
There were no standards enforced (at least at first), but according to one source (The Collector's Dictionary of Silver and Gold by Michael Clayton) the usual commercial process involved fusing sheets of Sterling silver of 1/8" thickness to ingots of base metal which was then fired; the ingots were then rolled into sheets which could subsequently be beaten into shape in the same manner as that used to raise solid silver objects. Supposedly the rolling and hammering hardens the metal, which makes it more durable, while the electroplating process tends to soften the metal, reducing its durability.

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tmockait

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iconnumber posted 02-18-2006 04:05 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for tmockait     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Dale,

Your post could be an essay on the generic effects of the industrial revolution and the growth of consumer goods during the second half of the 19th c.- the transition from craftsmanship to standardization.

For middle class Victorian couples, appearance was everything. All of an aspiring couples money went into the parlour and dining rooms, which were quasi-public spaces for entertaining in order to advance ones career. Penny pamphlets provided instructions on how to appear wealthier than you were. I suspect that silver platting contributed to this phenomenon. Why else go so much trouble stamping pseudo marks on tableware, excpet to dupe the one guest gauche enough to look for hallmarks at the dinner table!

Sheffield platte would make an interesting case study in social transition. Its invention corresponds to the transition from an aristocratic order to a modern class-based society.

Tom

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Dale

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iconnumber posted 02-18-2006 05:54 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dale     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Very kind words Tom, thank you. I have been dealing with silverplate for a long time.

Something I have always noticed. Pre-1900 US silverplate really does not have psuedo hallmarks. These are a feature for the most part of the 20th century. People were apparently content for their guests to know that this was plated ware. Or if they wanted psuedo hallmarks, they bought imported English plate. For the first sixty or so years of the silverplated era, firms cheerfully used modern marks, showing that they were offering modern items.

It was only with the rise of the Colonial Revival that these marks began to appear. To my mind, they were confined to a traditional, heavily WASPie crowd. The vast market for plate tended towards the current and faddish.

When I look at old ads for plated ware, what strikes me is how they try to connect the patterns of the moment to other design trends. Which tells me that silverplate is a somewhat ephemeral product, very tied to place and time. Most of the production is not traditional. And when there was a mass following for silver, they tended to want up to the minute. Which means there is no incentive for long shelf life.

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Dale

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iconnumber posted 02-19-2006 03:03 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dale     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Hi Scott,
Did this answer your questions?

One thought I have about the longer shelf life of Sheffield plate is that this is a statistical illusion. The Sheffield pieces that were worn got electroplated. And are now classified that way. It just appears that Sheffield had a longer shelf life because we don't encounter the ones that got worn all that much.

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tmockait

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iconnumber posted 02-19-2006 03:24 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for tmockait     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Interesting. As a British historian, I was thinking of England where maintaing a stiff upper lip and appearances were paramount.

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Scott Martin
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iconnumber posted 02-19-2006 09:19 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Scott Martin     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I haven’t handled much in the way of Sheffield Plate. So these were just passing thoughts and I thank you for the education and your opinions.

I was thinking since electro plate is .999 (the softest silver) and if Sheffield Plate happened to be a fused alloy like sterling (harder than .999) then Sheffield Plate should wear better. Additionally I was also guessing that the silver in Sheffield Plate had to be much thicker therefore it would take longer to wear through to the base metal.

But these were just passing thoughts and I was hoping someone with more knowledge would comment on. And you all did! Thanks.

Swarter - I am not sure what you mean by “.... while the electroplating process tends to soften the metal, reducing its durability” ???

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swarter
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iconnumber posted 02-20-2006 12:16 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for swarter     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I was paraphrasing Clayton's description - he gave no details, and it was hard to discern whether he was speaking about silver alone or also the base metal (usually copper), but I would speculate that the deposition of silver from an electrolyte solution would make for a softer layer than one of solid silver.

[This message has been edited by swarter (edited 02-20-2006).]

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ahwt

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iconnumber posted 02-21-2006 07:36 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for ahwt     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
“Sheffield Silver Plate” by G. Bernard Hughes is an interesting book written by someone that clearly enjoyed the Sheffield look of a faintly bluish luster and the high quality of the finished product. As Mr. Hughes notes, greater skill and time was required for fashioning Sheffield plate than that for producing comparable pieces in solid silver. The tax imposed on silver, however meant that in 1784 Sheffield plate could be sold at one-third the price of silver. Such was the economics of the time and the small value added by the cost of labor.

The actual plating initially was done by the same factory the fashioned the finished, but plating quickly became a specialty trade and the silvered plate was made in three standard qualities varying with the thickness of the silver and the gauge of the copper. Its normal thickness was one-fortieth that of the copper: 10-12 ounces of silver to eight pounds of copper was standard. For second quality plate, made from about 1815, the silver was reduced to eight ounces for every eight pounds of copper. Deep cut engraving required at least 24 ounces of silver to eight pounds of copper.

Mr. Hughes states that silver of the sterling standard was used; however no law is cited that required this use. Because of the complex process for bonding the silver to the copper, it may well be that sterling was required for technical reasons. The whole process of making Sheffield plate was in part an art rather than a science. The process required skilled craftsmen to see differences in color during the various stages and react to these differences. Throughout the time period that Sheffield plate was used improvements in the manufacture of the plate and the fashioning of the finished product was achieved in incremental steps.

The invention of electroplating brought about the end to the Sheffield plate era. At the end the Sheffield plate dealers advertised that their plate was “plate by fire” to emphasize its superiority over electro-plating. Electro-plating suffered from the stark white color of pure silver, but the finished product enjoyed a clear price advantage. The “Wal-Mart effect” was alive and well in the second half of the nineteenth century and gradually the superior quality Sheffield plated products loss market share to the cheap electro-plated items.

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Scott Martin
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iconnumber posted 02-21-2006 09:58 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Scott Martin     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks everyone.

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Dale

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iconnumber posted 02-22-2006 12:00 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dale     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
One factor we are overlooking in this, I feel, is that Sheffield plate had a definite drawback. It was on copper, which should not be used with food. The new improved electroplate had a base, which was a kind of pewter, that could safely be used with food. This is something to take into account. IMHO of course.

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swarter
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iconnumber posted 02-22-2006 04:52 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for swarter     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
To avoid the unpleasant taste imparted to food or drink by the base metal, the areas exposed to contact were often also plated with another layer of silver (or else gilded) so that the only way to detect the fact that a Sheffield piece was not solid silver was to look under the bottom where the base metal usually (but not always) was exposed.

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adelapt

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iconnumber posted 02-23-2006 05:13 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for adelapt     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Although pewter could not be used as a base to electroplate over, britannia metal, which looks similar (and dates from the late 18thC) could be. This was often marked "EPBM" after the introduction of the electroplating process. Other identifiers of Sheffield Plate, other than just looking underneath, include the use of lap-over edges (to cover the edge of the cut silver/copper sandwich), applied edge strips of silver, and the presence of seams.
The book by G Bernard Hughes 'Antique Sheffield Plate' (Batsford 1970) is excellent on the subject, fairly readily available s/hand, and cheap.

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Hose_dk

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iconnumber posted 12-24-2017 02:50 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Hose_dk     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Remember the time. OSP was invented and used because it could substitute silver. Much later - 100 years after EP was invented. You cannot compare EP to OSP as litle as OSP to silver.
OSP was a way to make cheaper products that apperewd to be. I have a OSP tea pot. When i feel - with my fingers and eyes closed - I can feel a different structure at one specifik place. Where coat of arms should be engraved. The OSP has one thickness on the entire object but a few cm2 has a thickness that is twise that of the rest. There the engraving should be.
OSP is rare - I have during the years collected some 10-15 different pieces.

[This message has been edited by Hose_dk (edited 12-24-2017).]

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ahwt

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iconnumber posted 12-27-2017 06:00 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for ahwt     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Sometimes on Old Sheffield Plate the maker would insert a block of sterling silver where the monogram was intended to go. Their skill in doing this made it almost impossible to see in the finished product, but it allowed the engraver for freedom for his work.
You can sometimes see the faint line that the insertion made by blowing on it to form condensation.
OSP is one of my favorite types of silver. When the cost of silver products went up in the late 18th century because of taxes the demand for OSP went up.

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