Metalwork in Sheffield

New Technology - 'Old Sheffield Plate'

What is 'Silver Plating'?

Silver plating means applying a thin layer of silver to the surface of a cheaper material. Articles made from a silver plated base material can look as if they are made of solid silver, but they cost much less.


A new technique

Over the centuries, various silver plating techniques have been developed. A Sheffield cutler called Thomas Boulsover invented a method called fusion plating in 1742. This produced the silver plated ware now called 'Old Sheffield Plate' or 'fused plate'. 


When it was introduced, fusion plating offered considerable advantages over existing methods, which involved applying silver by hand to individual base-metal articles. Through fusion plating, a block of base metal was silver plated, rolled into sheet form and then used for manufacturing items. 


In almost all other types of plating the article is made up in the base metal before being sliver-plated. Fusion plating made the large-scale production of silver plated goods possible.


The fused-plate manufacturers nearly always used copper as the base metal, and pieces of fused plate often show patches of red-brown where the silver has worn away, revealing the copper beneath.


Becoming obsolete

Fusion plating became a major industry in Sheffield, but it soon spread to other centres, chiefly Birmingham and towns in Europe, until it was superseded by electroplating after 1840. The trade did not entirely die out when electroplating was introduced as it was retained for a few specific products.


Glossary:

Advantages - benefits or gains

Base - main ingredient to which others are added

Electroplating - using electrolysis to cover an object with metal

Fusion - to merge two separate things into one

Retained - kept, still used

Superseded - to replace something that is not efficient


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