|Antiques Digest||Browse Auctions||Appraisal||Home|
Electroplated Silver, Successor to Pewter
Pewter was the poor man's silver in America from the mid-seventeenth century to about 1850. During these two hundred years, workers in this perishable alloy were, like the silversmiths, craftsmen who served lengthy apprentice ships and then worked at their trade, producing articles and shapes akin to those of silver but simpler and plainer in decorative detail.
Then, by the second decade of the nineteenth century, the inexpensive and colorful earthenware dishes from Staffordshire and tableware of silver fused on copper from Sheffield began giving them keen competition. Consequently, when an electrolytic process for silver plating was discovered and perfected in England, American pewterers were quick to capitalize on it. The new method presented few problems to them as the soft white alloy under the silver was so similar to pewter that it could be worked with the same tools and spinning methods; furthermore, it did not call for such a high percentage of tin, the most expensive component of pewter.
The man who laid the foundation for this important nineteenth-century American industry was John O. Mead, a Philadelphia pewterer who went to England, learned the silver-plating technique in Birmingham, and then returned to experiment further. In 1845, he and William Rogers of Hartford, Connecticut, became partners and began making electroplated flatware. It was a commercial success, although the partnership lasted only a year. Mead returned to Philadelphia and resumed his own silver-plating business there. Rogers stayed in Hartford and, with his brothers, Asa and Simeon, formed the famous company, trademarked "Rogers Brothers, 1847."
By the 1850's, a number of pewter craftsmen had shifted their operations to the manufacturing of silver-plated wares in various forms, ranging from tea and coffee services to butter dishes, casters, cake dishes, platters, tureens, and other table ware. Among the large manufacturers besides Rogers Brothers, were Reed and Barton of Taunton, Massachusetts, who began electroplating in 1848, and the 1Vleriden Britannia Company, founded in 1852 in iVleriden> Connecticut, and by 1863 the largest maker of plated silver in America.
Since this change from pewter to electroplated silver occurred at the height of the Victorian period, the pieces made in the new ware are always more elaborate in design than the earlier pewter, which was generally very plain and simple. Not only are the silver-plated pieces ornamented with Victorian details but they are often embellished with florid engraved decoration.
A sure way to distinguish pewter from its successor is by the maker's mark. The pewter's mark is stamped into the piece with a steel die; the silver plater's is frequently a small coin-like disk, soldered to the bottom of a piece, with the letters raised,and insert. Many of these marks are the names of companies with their place-names and also include the word "quadruple" or "quadruple plate" to indicate quality of plating. A pewter touch mark is generally either a name or initials, plain or combined with some decorative design such as an eagle, rose and crown, or similar device.
The silver-plated service in the illustration is in the Victorian manner but of restrained classic outline. It is decorated with beading and bands of Greekkey pattern. Originally, it included two pots, one for tea and a larger one for coffee. The maker's label is on the bottom of each piece, a coin-like disk lettered, "Rogers, Smith fI Co., New Haven Ct." with "No. 1790" in the center. This was one of William Rogers numerous partnerships. The figure, 1790, is the style number and not the year the service was made. The approximate date can be established as after 1862 and before 1868, since the Rogers, Smith factory was moved from Hartford to New Haven in 1862 and six years later to Meriden.