Sheffield plate, metalware of copper, silver-plated by fusion, originated at Sheffield, England. This process of plating was discovered c.1742 by a Sheffield cutler, Thomas Boulsover, who found while doing repair work on silver and copper that they fused at high temperature and could be hammered and shaped as one metal. He used his discovery to make buttons and buckles, but an apprentice, Joseph Hancock, grasped the broader application and began the production of tableware and other domestic articles that won wide popularity as substitutes for the more expensive solid silver. The manufacture spread not only in England, where Birmingham became an active center of production, but to the Netherlands, Russia, and Poland, where English methods and patterns were adopted. Similar ware was produced in France by a different process. Sheffield plate followed, in general, the contemporary styles in silver, but some original designs were used and in the 19th cent. characteristic flat-chased pieces developed. Early ware was plated on one side only, but c.1765 a method for plating both sides was introduced. Edges were at first soldered, then concealed with plated wire and finally with applied silver edges. Additional silver was embedded in areas to be engraved. German silver, an alloy of nickel, zinc, and copper, came into common use c.1835 and was preferred to copper as a base, since it showed less where the plating wore off. Special hallmarks were used after 1784. Sheffield plate was superseded c.1840 by the cheaper electroplating method.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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