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The two common forms of plated silver are Sheffield plate and silverplate/electroplate.
Sheffield Plate is a cheaper substitute for sterling, produced by fusing sheets of silver to the top and bottom of a sheet of copper or base metal. This 'silver sandwich' was then worked into finished pieces. At first it was only put on one side and later was on top and bottom.
Modern electroplating was invented by Italian chemist Luigi V. Brugnatelli in 1805. Brugnatelli used his colleague Alessandro Volta's invention of five years earlier, the voltaic pile, to facilitate the first electrodeposition. Unfortunately, Brugnatelli's inventions were repressed by the French Academy of Sciences and did not become used in general industry for the following thirty years.
Silver plate or electroplate is formed when a thin layer of pure or sterling silver is deposited electrolytically on the surface of a base metal. By 1839, scientists in Britain and Russia had independently devised metal deposition processes similar to Brugnatelli's for the copper electroplating of printing press plates.
Soon after, John Wright of Birmingham, England, discovered that potassium cyanide was a suitable electrolyte for gold and silver electroplating.
Wright's associates, George Elkington and Henry Elkington were awarded the first patents for electroplating in 1840. These two then founded the electroplating industry in Birmingham England from where it spread around the world.
Common base metals include copper, brass, nickel silver - an alloy of copper, zinc and nickel - and Britannia metal-a tin alloy with 5-10% antimony. Electroplated materials are often stamped EPNS for electroplated nickel or silver, or EPBM for electroplated Britannia metal.
Sheffield plate by the fusion process was not made in America, but factories here did turn out quantities of electroplated silver. In fact, it was so popular that one English firm with several variations of its name, but all including Dixon, sold quantities of electroplated silver, issued catalogues, and even had a New York showroom.
Today there is a great deal of American plated silver which has been treasured for years. Many families had plated silver as well as fine sterling. Some of it was inherited; some prized for sentimental reasons. If you have this plated ware, and it is as dear to you as fine early silver, then you are among the happy people of this world.
On plated silver the terms 'triple' and 'quadruple' indicate the number of coatings received by the base metal in the electroplating process. Naturally the more metal used in the plating the longer the piece should last. Polishing and wear have taken their toll of much of this plated ware and whether pieces are worth replating depends on their usefulness and your pleasure in them. If you like them well enough to spend money on them, then by all means have the work done, but remember a piece is worth at market value only the metal that is in it, the base metal under the plating being worth very little.
E.P.N.S. (Electroplated Nickel Silver) and EPBM (Electroplated Britannia Metal) are the most common names attributed to silver plate items. But many other names are used for silver plate:
EPWM, Electroplate on White Metal, EPC, Electroplate On Copper, EPCA, Electro Plated Copper Alloy, EPGS - Electro Plated German Silver, EPMS - Electro Plated Magnetic Silver, African Silver, Albion Silver, Alpha Plate, Ambassador Plate, Angle Plate, Argentium, Argentine Plate, Argentum, Ascetic, Austrian Silver, Brazilian Silver, Britanoid, Cardinal Plate, Electrum, Embassy Plate, Encore, Exquisite, Insignia Plate, Kingsley Plate, New Silver, Nevada Silver, Norwegian Silver, Pelican Silver, Potosi Silver, Royal County Plate, Silva Seal, Silverite, Sonora Silver, Spur Silver, Stainless Nickel, Stainless Nickel Silver, Unity Plate, Venetian Silver, Welbeck Plate,