Metalwork in Sheffield
Old Sheffield Plate
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 while costing less.
Over the centuries, various silver plating techniques have been developed, and one of them, the process known as fusion plating, produced the silver plated ware now called Old Sheffield Plate or fused plate. Its method of production distinguishes Old Sheffield Plate from other types of silver plated wares.
The fused-plate trade was introduced and established by cutler
Thomas Boulsover in Sheffield in around 1742. It thrived for about a hundred years, until it was superseded by electroplating after 1840. When it was introduced, fusion plating offered considerable advantages over the existing methods of silver plating, all of which involved applying silver by hand to individual base-metal articles.
Fusion plating, by contrast, was a process whereby a block of base metal was silver plated, rolled into sheet form and then used for the manufacture of articles. In almost all other 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 a possibility.
The fused-plate manufacturers nearly always used copper as the base metal, and pieces of fused plate often show characteristic patches of red-brown where the silver has worn away, revealing the copper beneath.
Fusion plating became a major industry in Sheffield, but it soon spread to other centres, chiefly Birmingham and towns in Europe.
The trade did not entirely die out when electroplating was introduced as it was retained for a few specific products.