How to Differentiate Between Silver, Old Sheffield Plate and Silverplate
In Part I, I gave a brief history of the development of the British silverplating industry in the 18th and 19th centuries. Now I would like to offer some tips on how to determine whether a given object is silver, Old Sheffield Plate or silverplate.
In England silver has been marked in some manner since the 12th century when it was first regulated by Parliament. The marks made it possible to trace the maker and the place of manufacture. This helped to protect the consumer, for if it was determined that the silver object was not actually pure enough to be marked as silver, the culprit could be found and punishment could be meted out. As silver objects made before 1700 are quite rare, I shall restrict my comments to those made after that date.
In 1719 Parliament established the standard for purity for sterling silver and instituted a mark indicating that an item is of sufficient purity to be deemed sterling. That standard means an item is made of 92.5% pure silver. The mark is a Lion Passant-the image of a lion walking, facing left. You may be sure that an object bearing this mark is English sterling silver made after 1719.
In addition to the Lion Passant there are other marks which give more information about the sterling silver object. There is a mark which will tell you in what city it was assayed (i.e. its purity measured): e.g. London, Birmingham, Chester, Sheffield, Dublin, Edinburgh, etc. There is another mark – generally the sovereign’s head – which will certify that duty was paid on the piece. Another mark will give the year that the item was assayed (generally speaking the year it was made) -these are letters in a shield device. Each year is represented by a different letter of the alphabet. The shape of the shield changed over time; the facetype of the letter changed over time; whether the letter was capitalized or not changed over time. All of these details enable one to determine date of manufacture. Then there are makers marks, usually only letters which will identify the maker. See Figure 1.