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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Sheffield Plate
(Part 2 Of 2)

Nearly all of these articles were manufactured during the entire period of one hundred years, though wine-coolers, supper-trays, cake- and fruitbaskets, egg-cup frames, dish-covers, and a few other articles probably date no further back than 1775. During this period the forms and styles of ornamentation underwent a marked change, as did the fashions in dress, architecture, furniture, and silverware.

The earliest of the styles found in Sheffield plate has been commonly called Queen Anne, a term applied also to chairs and cottages that were built after that monarch's death. The style was really developed during the reign of George I, but the term "Queen Anne" has come to be more closely associated with style than "George L" The shape of these pieces of Queen Anne Sheffield plate is quaint, perhaps a little clumsy, but simple and full of character. Inside they often show the marks of the workman's hammer, and have fluted or drawn wire edges. The shapes are usually oblong or oval.

The early Georgian styles include a variety of patterns. First there is to be noted the raised or in dented spiral fluting of the time of George II. "Then came more elaborate ornamentation-chased flowers and festoons, often accompanied by piercing. Following this came the Classic Georgian, the result of the influence of Adam and Flaxman, and very similar in form to the Classic Georgian silverware. Perfection of form rather than elegance of ornamentation was the line of development, though the chasing was very fine, and the handles and other mounts were often extremely beautiful and carefully modeled.

A more ornately Classic style followed this, which relied upon repousse work for ornamentation. Medallions joined by swags or festoons were common. Little by little over-ornamentation became a fault, until it gave place to the style of the Empire period, the characteristics of which were heaviness of form and an Egyptian and Roman type of ornamentation. There were winged lions, sphinxes, a formal leaf pattern, and a wickerwork treatment.

After the Empire style came a revolt against Classicism, with much pierced work but little chasing or engraving. Fluting and raised work were revived, and a tendency to use natural flower and leaf forms. Finally there came a very florid style, and last a mixture that can hardly be classified.

The makers of Sheffield plate used no date-marks as did the silversmiths. The chief way of determining the age of a piece is by its style, using contemporaneous silverware as a basis. The makers sometimes used their private marks, but these in some cases extended over more than one generation. In general, the simpler and plainer a piece of Sheffield plate is, the older and more valuable it is, though those of later date are often more beautiful. The pieces plated on one side are the oldest. Something may be learned from the finish of the edges, as previously explained. After 1824 nearly all pieces were welded and burnished at the edges on the wrong side.

Little record was ever kept of makers' marks, and the majority of existing pieces show no mark at all. The whole matter of marks is so doubtful that, while an interesting study in itself, it is seldom considered in valuing a piece. Makers sometimes placed their names on the early pieces, but there was no system of trade-marks in use before 1784. Pieces dating 1784 to 1794 frequently bear both the name and the mark of the maker. Names were practically never used after 1800.

Makers' marks, when found, at least prove British manufacture. Continental imitations never bear such marks. These marks are many and varied. Roberts, Cadman & Co. used a bell; Fenton, Creswick & Co., crossed arrows; Henry Wilkinson & Co., crossed keys on a shield; Holy, Wilkinson & Co., a pineapple; Walker, Knowles & Co., a ball and cross; Watson, Fenton & Bradbury, a ship; Kirkly, Waterhouse & Co., a phenix on a shield; and there are a dozen others, more or less rarely found.

What few marks have been preserved and identified are given in Mr. Bertie Wylie's book on "Sheffield Plate."

Until the last ten or fifteen years Sheffield plate had such small value that it was but little counterfeited. Lately, however, copies of Sheffield have been made in large quantities both in this country and in England, by the electroplating of cast reproductions. This generally results in a different color and texture, though the effect of age is often cleverly imitated. One firm in England, at least, is also making Sheffield by the old process. The copper and silver plates are rolled as formerly, the edges finished in solid silver, etc. Such pieces, when bruised and treated to simulate age, are extremely hard to detect -much more so than the electroplated imitations, with their more glassy appearance.

In general, bearing in mind the process of manufacture, see that the edge bands and embossed ornaments have been soldered on. They should, of course, be sterling silver and not electroplate. The color, weight, character and color of tarnish, ease of brightening, shape, style of ornamentation, appearance of edge, and general workmanship are all considered in judging the authenticity of Sheffield plate. Most old pieces are so worn that the copper shows somewhere, though this is not an invariable guide.

The decoration is hardly a safe thing to go by, as the chasing on the old plates, platters, trays, etc., being usually rather crude, is not hard to imitate. The connoisseur's educated sense of feeling and trained judgment are really necessary to detect the cleverest of the bogus pieces, and it is a safe rule to leave all doubtful specimens alone.

As in all other classes of antiques, the wise collector will look. for intrinsic beauty as eagerly as for age, genuineness, and historic associations. The beautiful piece is always the most valuable from all points of view, but a worn piece need not be condemned as valueless. If so desired, such a piece can be refinished by a silversmith, but such procedure is seldom to be advocated. Indeed, it is hardly going too far to advise the amateur antiquarian never to have a piece replated, no matter how much of the copper shows; all its charm as an antique is then lost. In no case send your piece to the electroplater's to be "repaired." More than one fine piece has been ruined in the eyes of the connoisseur in this way. To him it is no longer Sheffield plate.

In the old days repairing was done by the most skilful workmen. If a mount came off it was soldered on and burnished with the utmost care. A blister sometimes appeared in the silver, due to some spot or imperfection on the surface of the copper. This was removed and the place cleverly patched with one to five layers of silver leaf. The same result can be obtained to-day by good silversmiths by a modern sponging process.

Sheffield plate is valued by dealers and collectors chiefly by the size, beauty, and condition of the individual piece, though pieces made before 1770, because rare, are given a higher money value, other things being equal. Pieces with solid silver mounts are worth more than those with filled mounts.

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