by Dr. Lori Verderame
Sheffield silver plate was invented by accident by Thomas Boulsover in the mid 1700s. He was making a repair to a silver object and realized that he could fuse two metals together. Boulsover discovered that silver and copper could transform into a sheet that could be fashioned into objects that look like sterling silver. Thin silver sheets were fused together with a thicker sheet of copper and Sheffield silver plate was born. By the end of the 1700s, many Sheffield silver plate objects were being produced for members of the upper and middle classes.
The traits of Sheffield silver plate were strength, durability, and good looks. Antique Sheffield silver plate objects such as snuff boxes, trays, tea sets, coat buttons, candlesticks, patch boxes, etc. were marketed for one main reason…Sheffield silver plate was attractive and not as expensive as sterling silver. Today, like sterling silver and pewter collectibles, Sheffield silver plate remains popular with collectors. Values range widely with some pieces commanding several thousands to tens of thousands of dollars.
What to Look For
Marks of prominent makers are visible on pieces of Sheffield silver plate. Some of the most famous makers of these objects were Matthew Boulton, Thomas Boulsover, Joseph Hancock, Benjamin Huntsman, and T. J. Settle among others.
Look for characteristic marks like maker’s marks, date stamps, and town marks. Some Sheffield silver plate makers also added quality marks on their pieces too. Quality marks show the amount of silver used in their pieces. Some quality marks note “Best Sheffield plating” or “Medium” to address a quality standard. Pieces stamped “Sheffield plate” are often electroplated pieces that were made in Sheffield and are not the same as genuine Sheffield silver plate. In the 1900s, a crown hallmark demonstrated a piece of silver plate produced in the city of Sheffield.
Look at the edge of your piece of Sheffield silver plate as edges most commonly reveal the copper core. If you think of the Sheffield silver plate piece as a sandwich, then the silver sheets would be the bread and the copper core the meat. As you review the edge of a piece of Sheffield silver plate, you may see a line of copper peaking through the edge. That is a tell tale sign of silver plating.
Be on the lookout for this “copper peeking” which is a major issue when it comes to Sheffield silver plate objects. Over time and with excessive cleaning or polishing, the copper core of a piece of silver plate will show through the silver plating. Avoid harsh cleaning or polishing agents when caring for Sheffield silver plate.
Get an online appraisal report of your Sheffield piece from Dr. Lori.