THESE two cream jugs make an interesting comparison as they illustrate the two main methods used to silver-plate base metal objects.
The earlier piece of the two is the jug with the angular handle and rectangular base, which is around 200 years old.
This is an example of Old Sheffield Plate, sometimes referred to as fused plate. This method of manufacture was established in Sheffield around 1740 and was used for silver-plated wares for the next 100 years.
Previous processes for silver-plating articles had all been time-consuming as they involved making the item first and then applying silver to it by hand - a laborious process.
In fusion or Sheffield plating, on the other hand, a block of base metal, usually copper, was silver plated and rolled into sheets, which were then used to make the objects, either by stamping shapes out with presses and dies, or by raising the sheet metal with hammers, as had been done with solid silver items for centuries.
One of the problems with Sheffield plate was that the copper core was exposed along open edges. To get round this, edges were either turned over, or silver-plated wires were soldered on to them, as in the jug shown here.
By 1840 a cheaper alternative had been developed, the method still used today: electroplating. In this process, a previously made article was suspended in a solution of silver dissolved in potassium cyanide and water. Electricity from batteries was then passed through the solution, causing a layer of silver to be deposited on the article by electrolysis, the thickness of the coat depending on the length of time, or number of times, the article was immersed.
The electroplated jug with the engine-turned decoration has a small silver plaque rubbed into it - a method that was used for both electroplated wares and Sheffield Plate to allow purchasers to have their initials engraved without the base metal showing through.
Old Sheffield Plate is generally more collectable than electroplate, although interesting, elaborate or rare electroplated pieces can make good money. Condition is important as years of cleaning can result in too much of the base metal showing through - a small amount of "bleeding", as it's called, being allowable with Old Sheffield Plate. These cream jugs are attractive but fairly workaday items and aren't worth a great deal - around PS20-PS30 for the two - but they did only cost PS3.50 from a flea market.
| Electroplated jug
| Old Sheffield Plated jug (angular handle and rectangular base)