How can I tell what lind of silver it is?

colleenozJanuary 19, 2012

Just getting around to unpacking stuff my mother left which has been in storage for years. Found a rather pretty old, large, heavy silver (?) oval shallow tray with a cast trim around the edge of roses and festoons. It was heavily tarnished, but silver polish has made it beautiful again.

Thing is, I can find no marks of any kind on it. Obviously it's silver, at least the outside is, but there appear to be no hallmarks or even "company name" and pretend marks such as you get on plated silver. some pretty good scratches on the back reveal no base metal. Ideas?

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Could it be old Sheffield Plate? Or sterling? Was there any tradition of silver smithing in Australia? Were there guilds that would uphold the standards of fineness in silver? Did they make something similar to Sheffield plate? Would it have come from England?

    Bookmark   January 19, 2012 at 11:56AM
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I can't be certain of its origin, Mom is most likely to have brought it out from the US when we emigrated but then again may have found it at an old country hotel we had here in Oz.
If it was an antique acquired here it could be either British or locally made but in either case I would expect to find hallmarks, unless they are hidden by the cast edge.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2012 at 1:26PM
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Here's how to detect Old Sheffield Plate:

1) The silver itself has a somewhat bluish cast to the color of it. Since it's applied silver on the surface and not 925, it won't match other sterling pieces and if I'm correct, won't match electroplate either.

2) Since the body of the piece is a sandwich of silver-copper (or other base metal)-silver, the inside filling needed to be hidden so a silver edge was applied and wrapped over. Some were done with ingeniously, others with more obviousness. The earliest piece of Old Sheffield in my collection has a raw edge on its spout and I can see the copper. "Silver mounts" printed on bottom is a clue that the trim pieces are solid silver.

3) sometimes an area of solid silver was set into the middle of a tray or on the belly of a liquid-holding piece to accept an engraved monogram or family crest. These usually show up as areas which will not tarnish at the same rate OR which don't look the same as the balance of the piece when you breathe on them.

4) Generally, Old Sheffield Plate had a lifespan from mid-18thC. to 2nd quarter 19th C. This means that the style of the piece needs to match the era in which it was produced. Some Old sheffield did not have a silver back but a tinned back, esp in early years.

5) "Pink" areas of copper showing through somewhere are your most obvious clue, where the servants polished too hard. But...Old Sheffield repros also have copper beneath the silver.

5) The silver smithing guilds hated the Sheffielders, whose work cut into their profits and apparently rivaled their stuff in glitz value. So they refused to allow proper hallmarks. At some times they required NO hallmarks; at other times, pseudohallmarks were given. You can find lists of these in silver books. Having no mark is a symptom of Old Sheffield, although sometimes on a complex piece I find alphabet letters embossed on them, such as on a water pan inside a warming unit. But...if there are numbers scratched on the underside, this is not unusual. I have a number of pieces with this kind of maker's doodle on the underside.

6) Liquid-holding pieces may have a seam on the inside. On the outside, they burnished this until it became invisible.

7) The Sheffielder had to out-do the silversmith at his own game, since they were competitors. This means that the Sheffielder produced high-fashion pieces, especially ones that attracted the rising new middle class in the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. People who lacked "old family silver" needed it for their social acceptance into the world of conspicuous consumption. This means that the pieces were often big. The kind of thing that shines on a sideboard and that went along with table service by servants. The upper class began to look at these pieces and say, hey, why not and so they began to buy into it also. But Old Sheffield Plate was not intended for heavy polishing, which is why there are so many pink pieces today. NEVER replate this stuff; collectors accept that the copper will show. It's considered part of the charm.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2012 at 9:05AM
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Did someone say "Sheffield"?

Old James Dixon Sheffield Plate ..

    Bookmark   February 1, 2012 at 5:01AM
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I have some other sheffield plate that also has no markings.

It seems to be a hit or miss thing.

You can see the D*S (Dixon & Son) on the bottom of this water kettle (pictures are click-able) but the gorgeous stand has no markings at all.

There is absolutely no 'wear through' on the piece and the off color is from me NOT polishing it for over two years! 8)

The piece is circa 'early' 1800's and I am amazed that it looks as new as when it was first created. (When polished) LOL

If you can .. post some pictures of your piece and I may be able to help.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2012 at 5:12AM
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Beautiful...simply beautiful.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2012 at 8:45AM
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Thank you antiquesilver

James Dixon did some of the most beautiful sheffield plate!

I have run across a lot of his work such as candelabras, tea kettles and flask's and all of them are so intricately done!

Saying that .. This is the only piece that I have ever come across that was in such mint condition, with no silver loss!

I really hope that the OP comes back and posts some pictures!

    Bookmark   February 1, 2012 at 8:12PM
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I'll try but will need to take pictures first then get some help posting them :-)

    Bookmark   February 2, 2012 at 12:42AM
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Florantha has provided a really comprehensive and useful guide on how to tell what types of silver that you currently own. Actually, I think it would have been a better option if you were to check thoroughly first before applying the silver polish. Any markings could have been polished over or wiped away. Nonetheless, try looking out for the signs that Florantha has mentioned. Else, you can visit any antique or silver store and seek help from a professional.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2013 at 1:13AM
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