An Ode to Silver Plating
Anything silver can do, silver plate can do too - Or almost, anyway.
Of course we wish we could have all solid silver hollowware all the time, but that just is not always possible.
Luckily, geniuses of history pondered the same issue, and invented methods to coat other metals in silver, creating silver plated products. Thus giving the magical presence of shining silver goodies, without the hefty price tags of solid silver goods.
Since the dawn of silver plating, whether electro or non-electro, its use has been vast. Hardly any era since 1742 has gone without producing silver plated items - and what a magical landscape of breathtaking designs it opened to the masses.
Though still costly, silver plated items were, and still are far less so than their solid silver counterparts.
Many famous silversmiths in history have produced their designs in both silver and silver plated versions, so as to make the items more widely accessible.
One example of this is an Anton Michelsen tea caddy spoon. Keep reading for explanation and pictures of the spoon - and of other items.
Other makers did not dabble much in silver plate. They instead left this space open to some 'artistic license', if you will, on the part of other makers, who then produced similar designs for those who, for instance, could not afford Georg Jensen's elaborate Blossom (Magnolia) designs (see example later in the article).
Whatever you could want, from whichever era - the Art Nouveau, Deco, or the Mid-Century Modern era, or any other you can really think of since the 1740s - there are many great pieces available for when you just want a great piece of history and a bit of luxury, but do not have the budget to go full silver.
A brief history of silver plating
- Silver plating began in Sheffield in 1742. Thomas Bullsover invented the method, which came to be known as Sheffield Plating, as a way of producing shining silver items - without the high cost.
Sheffield Plating was the original plating method, where a material such as copper was fused with a layer of silver and rolled out, to create a 'new' sheet of material, which could be shaped - just as one would with solid silver, or indeed pure brass. Heat plays the main part in creating the fusion in this method of plating.
Most often items created with this method will be stamped Sheffield Plate.
It took decades to perfect the method, because they strove to achieve thin enough layers around the copper, and also the edges would sometimes uncover the copper that hid beneath the silver.
It took a long time, and much effort, though they did eventually reach the right balance.
Subsequently another method became more popular. Mainly pieces of silver plated cutlery is still in wide circulation, because large quantities were produced, once they realized the options it brought.
- In the 1840s the newer method was introduced and widely used by brothers George Richard and Henry Elkington. They created a chemical way to bind the silver to other metals, which meant an easier way to achieve a more flawless coating.
This other method, often stamped on items as EP or similar (for Electro Plated, EPNS for electro plated nickel silver), is a chemical process, where items, once fully formed in for instance copper or brass are submerged in liquid to undergo an electro-plating process. This way the silver is bound chemically to the item, which was originally in another material. It is bonds between electrons that create the plating.
Products of both methods are still found in wide circulation today, although the Electro Plating is more commonly found - especially for more elaborate designs.
Sheffield Plate can be found often in the UK, while in Denmark Electro Plating is more common to find. This can be stamped EPNS, EP, P, ATLA, ALPACCA - as well as several other ways.
ATLA is the name the silversmith Carm M. Cohr gave his silver plate. Cohr did not start producing any plated products until 1922. But we are thankful that they did, because a great quantity of beautiful silver plated items in Denmark today are by Cohr.
Silver plated items showing off the best designs of different eras
This beautiful inkwell stamped with the two-tower mark for Danish silver-plate, is a wonderful example of Danish Art Nouveau (Skønvirke).
Though the fact that it is silver plate means it has some wear-through from age, it is just as beautiful as any in silver.
This particular example is in immaculate condition with original glass insert still intact.
These three great pieces, which go so well together, consist of two candleholders for dinner candles by Danish silversmith Cohr (stamped as such, with the addition of their name for silver plate, 'Atla') These candleholders are usually found in a smaller taper candle size - this larger size is rarer.
The third piece, a footed dish, is a wonderful accompaniment, though of another maker, A/S Chr. Jensen.
This eye catching cocktail shaker / jug from circa 1930 shows just how truly workable silver plating is, and just how comparable it is to solid silver. Naturally, the durability is always in question, but this is equatable with pieces from makers like Georg Jensen, Evald Nielsen, Anton Michelsen etc. With its large stature, this jug is nothing short of a masterpiece and centerpiece, showing off the best of the 1930s - it is simply impossible not to admire.
A perfect Danish Art Nouveau/Art Deco example.
A Selection of eight of our jam / sugar /tea caddy spoons from various eras. In the top row are silver spoons, in the bottom row silver plated. What this really shows is that great options really are available in either composition - and from whichever era you might like.
No. 3 in the bottom row epitomizes this perfectly. It is an Anton Michelsen Mid-Century Modern example. It has actually been produced in both silver, and silver plate as the one here is. And the difference is unnoticeable.
With silver you get more long lasting pieces, but you don't have to compromise the feeling of luxury, just because of a lesser budget.
In the photo above: Pieces that can compete with the best of them.
Middle left - A beautiful dish giving Georg Jensen's Blossom a run for its money. Towards the center - A Bernhard Hertz silver plated letter opener in gorgeous art nouveau design. Bottom left - A set of Georg Jensen Tuja/Tanaquil Ice Tongs. Top right - A water pitcher fit to elevate any table setting with it's classic and elegant, yet simple design.
The world of vintage and antique silver is vast, and opens up to many options when shopping for home interior, or even gifts. Silver plated items should be thought of and considered, (almost) as often as solid silver, because the difference is not the beauty - it is just a matter of priorities for the individual search. Silver is more durable, of course, but with good care, you can get much enjoyment out of the sea of that is silver plated products.