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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Industry Encroaches Upon Silver

( Originally Published 1940 )

The first hint of industrialization in silversmithing was the discovery of the process of silver-plating. Thomas Boulsover, a cutler of Sheffield, England, accidentally discovered, while repairing a knife, that a thin sheet of silver could be made to adhere to a thicker sheet of copper by employing the right amount of heat, and that thereafter the two could be hammered and otherwise treated as a single metal. This was about 1742, but it was many years before other men took full advantage of it. Boulsover himself had used it solely for the manufacture of buttons. By the 19th century, however, the manufacture of Sheffield plate was well under way. Not only was it decidedly cheaper than solid silver, but it could even achieve certain more slender and elegant forms due to the greater hardness of copper.

Thus the advent of Sheffield plate, along with the more reliable banking conditions, contributed to the complete relegation of solid sterling silverware to a luxury status. Finally, in 1860, the Sheffield plate, which had so far been a craft product, was displaced by the still cheaper, thoroughly "industrial" technique of electroplating.

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