SILVER SUBSTITUTES

As it will be seen in another chapter the beautiful so-called Sheffield plate, which was a composite material of layers of metal welded together, the outer one being of the precious metal, the inner of an inferior quality, had already taken a prominent place in household appointments. This Sheffield plate, cheapening production, had proved an excellent silver substitute, for it was equally beautiful in finish, and stood the wear of many years, looking all the time like sterling silver, which its outer case really was (see Chapter XXXII). The silversmiths' art has at different times been subject to competitive production ; a healthy sign about it being that whereas the middle classes were able to discard pewter, and use a good substitute for pure silver wares, those who could afford it clung the more tenaciously to solid silver, and strained every nerve to possess it. The greatest change in the art of the silversmith came about 1828, when Messrs, Elkington & Co., the famous silversmiths, perfected the method of electro-plating base metal with silver. This art which does not come under review in this volume, gave great impetus to the trade of Birmingham in this direction, and provided householders with an abundant supply of cheap silver-plated goods, which when new had every appearance of the genuine article. Electroplated wares are found in every house-hold to-day, but none of these things, even those made in the early days of the industry, have the slightest interest to collectors ; much worn Sheffield plate is preferred to the best examples of "electro," and still more so the most trivial pieces of eighteenth century hall-marked sterling silver. The silver wares made in the early days of the nineteenth century may some day become valuable, but it will be a long time before collectors of silver will regard domestic plate of less than a century ago of much consequence.