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Glossary of Terms

 

  

If looking at the Langfords site has fired up your interest in silver - new or antique - and you are interested in learning and understanding more, you might want to know some simple definitions of the terms you may come across when you are buying. Here are explanations of some of the terminology and names of unusual items that you might come across.

 

Annealing

The process by which a hardened piece of metal is made malleable. Silver becomes hard through processes such as hammering, spinning and stamping. By heating it until it is a dull red and then allowing it to cool, it becomes workable. 

 

Applied decoration

A term for any decoration such as swags or garlands, stampings or castings made independently from the main body of the piece and then attached to it.

 

Argyll (Argyle)

A sauce or gravy pot designed to keep the contents warm by means of a hot-water jacket or central cavity. The design is attributed to John Campbell, the fifth Duke of Argyll (1723-1806).


Armada dish

The armada dish is thought to originate from a silver banqueting service commissioned by Sir Christopher Harris between 1599 and 1601 and which was made from silver recovered from a Spanish ship sunk during the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. During the English Civil War in 1645, the dinner service was buried on Dartmoor for safekeeping and was only re-discovered in the 1930s, since when Armada dishes became popular for many purposes such as a bon-bon dish, ashtray or shallow fruit bowl. Their distinguishing features are two engraved concentric rings around the lip and large staggered hallmarks.


Assay

The compulsory process of testing the purity of metals. Taken from the French word essayer - to test or try. All silversmiths are required to register their marks and details with an Assay Office and submit all work for examination. If the pure silver content is as represented the work is officially stamped or hallmarked. If not, the item is confiscated and in most cases destroyed.


Blacksmith's repairs

Rudimentary repairs that were often carried out by the village blacksmith or a craft worker other than a skilled silversmith.


Bleeding bowl

In England this is a simple shallow dish with a single pierced handle used for letting blood, while in America this type of dish is known as a porringer and was used as a feeding bowl. The English version of a porringer always has two handles.


Bright-cut engraving

A facet-cut engraving, particularly popular in the late 18th century, giving the effect of an inset diamond.


Britannia metal

Silver-like alloy of tin with some antimony and copper.


Britannia Standard

A silver standard of 958 parts per thousand introduced in England in 1697 to protect the new silver coinage which was being melted down by silversmiths for the silver. The sterling standard was restored in 1720. Britannia has only been denoted by the silver hallmark 958 since hallmarking changes introduced in 1999.  See Sterling Silver


Caddy spoon

For spooning tea from the caddy to the teapot and usually about two inches long.


Cartouche

A decorative shield applied to an article to allow a coat of arms or inscription to be engraved.


Casting

A means of production by pouring silver (or other metals) into a mould. Casting is often applied as a decoration, generally producing a heavy quality finish.


Caulking

Caulking is the process of hammering the edge of a raised piece of silver to thicken the rim. 


Chafing dish

A silver or silver-plated serving bowl with handles and cover. The handles are usually detachable. Many chafing dishes have hot water jackets (i.e. are double skinned) and were used to serve either hors d'oeuvres or vegetables.


Chasing

The highly skilled art of hammering metal in order to produce either a relief or an indented pattern without incurring any metal loss and create a three dimensional design. The silver is chased using numerous punches and a hammer. Repoussé is the opposite where the smith works on the reverse of the metal to form a raised design on the front.  Chasing is often then used to refine the design on the front by sinking the metal.  See Repoussé and Embossing.


Châtelaine

A clip used by the mistress of the house or housekeeper from which hung chains for attaching keys, scissors, needles and other household notions. The châtelaine was hooked onto the wearer's belt and was an object of common use from the Middle Ages until well into the 20th century.


Close-plate

Used during the 18th century for everyday objects such as spurs, knife blades and buckles. A thin foil of silver was soldered onto polished steel that had been dipped in tin. More cost-effective methods rendered this process obsolete during the 19th century.


Cut card

A style of decoration where a second layer of silver is pierced and placed against the main element creating a stepped design.


Dish cross

An adjustable cross, used to hold a serving platter, often with a central burner to keep the dish hot.


Dish ring

A stand with decorative chased or pierced sides to support and elevate dishes. Dish rings were never very common objects.


Egg boiler/coddler

Used to cook eggs at the table, this was a popular piece during the Victorian era and available primarily in silver plate. The eggs were placed inside the container with a detachable frame, boiling water poured in, the cover replaced and the burner set alight. The eggs were ready approximately seven minutes later.


Egg cruet

A frame holding egg cups and spoons - usually four or six of each.


Electro-forming

Metal is electro-deposited either into a mould and removed when sufficient thickness has been achieved to produce a solid, freestanding object, or onto a non-metal article to produced a filled model. This production method allowed intricate items to be reproduced for a fraction of the cost of their handmade equivalents. Almost any object can be coverd in this way - from seashells to glass.


Electro-plating

A method of coating a metal object with silver by passing an electric current from a block of pure silver to the article to be plated through a solution of cyanide and silver salts.


Embossing

Embossing is a hammering technique to work on the reverse of a metal to form a raised design on the front.  Chasing is the opposite technique to repoussé, and the two are often used in conjunction to create a finished piece. Embossing skills (also known as repoussé) date from antiquity and have been used widely with gold and silver, copper, tin, and bronze for centuries. Among the most famous classical pieces using this technique are the bronze Greek armour plates from the 3rd century BC.  See Chasing and Repoussé.


Engraving

Process in which silver is removed from the surface to create a design or inscription using a graving tool. Engraving is extremely versatile, lending itself to simple inscriptions or to grandiose decorations. Facsimile engraving replicates an individual’s handwriting and provides the ultimate personal touch.


Etching

Etching is the process of using strong acid to cut patterns into the unprotected parts of a flat silver surface to create a design in sunken relief.  Etching by goldsmiths and other metal-workers in order to decorate metal items such as guns, armour, cups and plates has been known in Europe since the Middle Ages at least, and may go back to antiquity.


EPBM

The acronym for Electro-Plated Britannia Metal, Britannia Metal being the base metal that is plated with silver.


Epergne

An ornamental structure designed to house a central bowl, with branches holding small subsidiary dishes. Candleholders and brackets for containing casters are often additional features. Usually used as a table centrepiece.

 

EPNS

The acronym for Electro-Plated Nickel Silver, with a nickel based alloy being the base metal to be plated.


Filled

Articles, notably candlesticks and knife handles, that have a central cavity filled with plaster or other substances to give stability.


Finial

An adornment found, for instance, on top of a teapot lid or on the tail of a spoon. It is most often made in silver, wood, bone or ivory.


Fire stain

Elements of a silver piece are heated during various processes such as soldering or annealing. This results in a grey staining on the surface of the metal which is removed during the polishing process.


Flatware

The generic term for silver cutlery, although Americans will be more familiar with the terms "silverware" or "flat silver". 


Gilding or gold plating

The electro-plating process is used to apply a thin layer of gold to a metal surface.


Hallmark

A system of marks impressed on silver or gold items by an Assay Office with the purpose of establishing its purity. In Britain, the hallmark consists of the assay mark (e.g. the lion passant for sterling silver) and other symbols denoting the place of assay, date, and maker. With its comprehensive records, the system helps the public to identify items and guard against forgeries. It is the world's most stringent silver quality control.


Hand-forging

The technique of hammering hot metal over an anvil.


Hollowware

Generic terms for items of household silver other than flatware.


Import mark

A special hallmark stamped onto a foreign silver article at the time of importation into Britain.

 
Knife rest

Traditionally used for carving knives when not in use.


Lacquering

A clear coating applied to silver to prevent tarnishing.


Laser engraving

The method where a design is burned or etched on a surface using a highly focused light (laser) to “engrave” or decorate a preprogrammed pattern into the surface of the material.  The beam is controlled by a computer at very high speeds and accuracy to give outstanding quality that is also cost effective.


Let-in shield or silver shield

Since it was not practical to engrave Old Sheffield Plate because the copper underneath would be exposed, a section of solid silver or 'shield' was set into the surface for engraving.


Marrow scoop

An elongated, rectangular spoon for extracting the marrow from meat bones.


Niello

A black alloy in granules used to fill engraved decoration in order to contrast with and enhance the silver. The alloy is placed in the cuts of the design and melted until the granules fuse. Any excess is polished away. This process is particularly prevalent in Russian silver.


Old Sheffield Plate

More correctly known as "fused plate", this is an early type of silver-plating where a sheet of silver is fused to a sheet of copper and then used for manufacturing. This process was the accidental invention of a Sheffield cutler in 1743 and enjoyed a production period of approximately 100 years before being superseded by electro-plate. The manufacture of Old Sheffield Plate was not confined to the city of Sheffield.


Pap-boat

A lipped, boat-shaped child's feeding bowl first in evidence around 1710 and in frequent use during the 100 years following.

 

Patina

The beautiful, deep blue/silver sheen that silver acquires with the passage of time caused by use and hand polishing.  Numerous tiny, almost imperceptible, surface scratches give silver its colour and feel. This effect is lost with machine polishing.


Photo-etching

A process of embellishment using a light-sensitive material to form a patterned coating on the silver’s surface and etchants to corrosively machine away selected areas. Photo etching can produce highly complex parts with very fine detail accurately and economically.


Piercing

Describes how a design is cut through silver. The design is usually engraved on the object and a piercing saw is then used to cut out the design.


Plannishing

The process of hammering the external surface to produce an improved overall finish. Today the resulting effect is commonly known as a hammered finish.


Plate

A term used pre-1743 to describe all articles of solid silver and gold. Derived from the Spanish word plata for silver, the term correctly describes all early solid silver but is often mistakenly used to refer to Old Sheffield or electroplate.


Porringer

In America a porringer simple shallow dish with a single pierced hand used as a feeding bowl. In England the single handled dish was used for letting blood, while the English version of a porringer always has two handles.


'Pseudo' hallmarks

Stamps resembling hallmarks added to silver-plated and foreign pieces.


Quadruple plate

An American trade term to indicate that an object has been dipped in the plating vat four times during the electroplating process.


Quaich

A shallow, two or three-handled drinking bowl or cup originating in Scotland. Traditionally, quaiches were made entirely of wood or wood with bands of silver. The word quaich is attributed to the Gaelic word cuach, meaning cup. To this day it is whiskey that remains a quaich’s most welcome partner.


Raising

Traditionally a vessel was raised by hammering silver sheet over an anvil. The hammer marks would be filed out to produce the best possible smooth surface.


Registration mark

A diamond shaped mark, first introduced during The Great Exhibition in 1851, to denote the date that a design of particular interest was first registered. This system continued into the 1870's when a numbering system replaced the diamond mark. These symbols were not restricted to silver, but can also be found on wood, glass, china and other metals.


Repoussé

Embossed decorations hammered from behind as opposed to chasing where silver is hammered from the front.  A famous contemporary sculpture created with this technique is the Statue of Liberty The statue was formed by copper repoussé in sections using wooden structures to shape each piece during the hammering process.  See Embossing.


Silver gilt

A thin covering of gold over solid silver. See Vermeil.


Silver shield or let-in shield

Since it was not practical to engrave Old Sheffield Plate because the copper underneath would be exposed, a section of solid silver or 'shield' was set into the surface for engraving.


Spinning

A method of producing circular shapes such as bowls, plates and cups from sheet silver. The ancient Egyptians were the first to employ this process. The silver sheet is held against a wooden or metal former and spun on a lathe where a tool is then used to press the silver up on to the former.


Spoon warmer

A Victorian invention used at a time when kitchens were often a long way from the dining room. A variety of articles that could contribute to keeping food warm were essential. Spoon warmers were often made in the form of a nautilus shell, although other designs do exist. They were filled with boiling water and left on the table. All serving spoons were put inside until needed for serving and enabling the food to remain warm in rooms that were much colder than today.


Spun wrap

To produce a thick or hollow rim, the edge of the silver is turned back on itself.


Stamping

Forming silver items such as plates and cutlery, using presses and dies.


Sterling silver

The standard alloy of 925 parts of pure silver to 75 parts copper that gives it durability and workability. See Britannia Standard.


Stirrup cup

A drinking cup handed to a mounted huntsman, often cast in the form of his quarry.


Tantalus

A lockable frame containing decanters usually made in wood or silver-plate. I t was designed to prevent the servants or children of the household from tippling while the master was away. Its name was derived from the eponymous Greek mythological figure who was subjected to a particularly ingenious form of punishment in Hades, denying him the possibility of quenching his thirst. He was made to stand in a waist deep lake, but the waters receded each time he bent to drink from it.


Taper stick

A small candlestick used to hold a narrow candle for melting sealing wax. 


Tarnish

The natural process of silver reacting with moisture and chemicals in the atmosphere.


Tea caddy

When first imported to England in the late 1600s tea was very expensive. This was compounded in the 18th century with heavy taxation, so lockable tea caddies were always in demand. Occasionally the lid was designed for use as a tea scoop or measure.


Tinning

A cost-cutting method used in the Old Sheffield process where tin is used instead of silver for unseen areas such as the interior of a teapot or the underside of a tray.


Triple plate

As the name implies, triple plate is one thickness less than quadruple plate.


Troy ounce

Precious metals are traditionally weighed in troy ounces. A troy ounce is equivalent to 31.1035g, slightly heavier than an imperial ounce.


Vermeil

The French term for silver gilt.


Wall sconce

A wall mounted candleholder.


Wax jack

Becoming popular in the 18th century, was jacks were kept on the desk and used to melt the sealing wax onto letters and also as an additional form of light. The wax jack frame was fitted with a spiral candle roll made of soft wax that could be extended by twisting the jack handle.


Whalebone handle

Twisted whalebone was introduced for punch ladles from 1740 onwards and used instead of silver and wood.


Wick trimmer

Scissor-action candle snuffers often incorporated the wick trimmer too. The scissor action extinguished the wick and the sprung blade trimmed it keeping the trimmings in the box shaped mechanism.