The idea of covering a base metal with a thin coating of the precious metal silver has been in existence since antiquity. The process was never really successful because of the difficulty of obtaining a close union between the metal surfaces. This was overcome by Thomas Boulsover of Sheffield who invented a process for fusing silver to copper, in the mid-18th century. The process later became know as Old Sheffield Plate after it was superseded by an electro-plating process. EPNS – electro plated nickel silver - is a misnomer since the product does not actually contain any elemental silver; the silver of its name is simply a description of its appearance.
Silver itself, along with gold, was considered to be one of only two precious metals in existence until the discovery of palladium and platinum in the 19th century. Silver is too soft in its pure state to be used for jewellery, coinage or useful wares. Consequently it is alloyed with a small proportion of copper so that it retains its brilliance whilst acquiring greater durability. The proportions of silver to copper have been subject to strict regulations verified by assay hallmarks for centuries. However the alloy is still relatively soft and suffers from wear and damage. For this, and other reasons, useful domestic silver has always been recycled resulting in a scarcity today of 18th century and earlier examples.
Silver at auction is bought both for its investment value and its aesthetic value. Prospective vendors are welcome to submit their items of silver for an up-to-date assessment and for inclusion in one of our regular auctions.
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