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
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
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
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
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
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.