Sterling silver

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Sterling silver is an alloy of silver containing 92.5% by weight of silver and 7.5% by weight of other metals, usually copper. The sterling silver standard has a minimum millesimal fineness of 925.

Contents

TiffanyPitcher.jpg
Tiffany & Co. pitcher. c.1871. Pitcher has paneled sides, and repoussé design with shells, scrolls and flowers. Top edge is repousse arrowhead leaf design.
Makedonska khanukija - mqdvny KHnvkyyh - Macedonian Hanukkah menorah.jpg
A Macedonian sterling silver Hanukkah menorah.
Chinese Export Punch Bowl, Hung Chong and Co., Shanghai, c. 1875, sterling silver - Huntington Museum of Art - DSC05428.JPG
A Chinese export sterling silver punch bowl, c.1875 (from the Huntington Museum of Art).

Fine silver, which is 99.9% pure silver, is relatively soft, so silver is usually alloyed with copper to increase its hardness and strength. Sterling silver is prone to tarnishing, [1] and elements other than copper can be used in alloys to reduce tarnishing, as well as casting porosity and firescale. Such elements include germanium, zinc, platinum, silicon, and boron. Recent examples of these alloys include argentium, sterlium, sterilite and silvadium. [2]

Etymology

One of the earliest attestations of the term is in Old French form esterlin, in a charter of the abbey of Les Préaux, dating to either 1085 or 1104. The English chronicler Orderic Vitalis (1075 – c. 1142) uses the Latin forms libræ sterilensium and libræ sterilensis monetæ. The word in origin refers to the newly introduced Norman silver penny.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the most plausible etymology is a derivation from a late Old English steorling (with (or like) a 'little star'), as some early Norman pennies were imprinted with a small star.

Another argument is that the Hanseatic League was the source for both the origin of its definition and manufacture, and in its name is that the German name for the Baltic is Ostsee, or 'East Sea', and from this the Baltic merchants were called "Osterlings", or "Easterlings". In 1260, Henry III granted them a charter of protection. Because the League's money was not frequently debased like that of England, English traders stipulated to be paid in pounds of the Easterlings, which was contracted to sterling. [3]

Their Kontor, the Steelyard of London, was called Easterlings Hall, or Esterlingeshalle. [4] The Hanseatic League was officially active in the London trade from 1266 to 1597. This etymology may have been first suggested by Walter de Pinchebek (c. 1300) with the explanation that the coin was originally made by moneyers from that region. [5]

The claim has been made in Henry Spelman's glossary (Glossarium Archaiologicum) as referenced in Commentaries on the Laws of England by William Blackstone. [6] Yet another claim on this same hypothesis is from William Camden, as quoted in Chamber's Journal of Popular Literature, Science and Arts, Volume 4. [7] By 1854, the tie between Easterling and Sterling was well-established, as Ronald Zupko quotes in his dictionary of weights. [8]

The British numismatist Philip Grierson disagrees with the "star" etymology, as the stars appeared on Norman pennies only for the single three-year issue from 1077 to 1080 (the Normans changed coin designs every three years). Grierson's proposed alternative is that sterling derives from ster [note 1] meaning 'strong' or 'stout', by analogy with the Byzantine solidus, originally known as the solidus aureus meaning 'solid gold' or 'reliable gold'. In support of this he cites the fact that one of the first acts of the Normans was to restore the coinage to the consistent weight and purity it had in the days of Offa, King of Mercia. This would have been perceived as a contrast to the progressive debasement of the intervening 200 years, and would therefore be a likely source for a nickname. [9]

S.E. Rigold disputes the origin being Norman, stating, "that, while medieval British coins seldom copy or are copied by those of France, they have many typological connexions with the lands to the east—the Netherlands, the Baltic, Germany, and even deeper regions of central Europe." [10]

History

Norman silver pennies changed designs every three years. This two-star design (possible origin of the word "sterling"), issued by William the Conqueror, is from 1077 to 1080. William I silver penny c 1075 moneyer Oswold at the mint of Lewes.jpg
Norman silver pennies changed designs every three years. This two-star design (possible origin of the word "sterling"), issued by William the Conqueror, is from 1077 to 1080.

The sterling alloy originated in continental Europe [11] and was being used for commerce as early as the 12th century in the area that is now northern Germany.

A piece of sterling silver dating from Henry II's reign was used as a standard in the Trial of the Pyx until it was deposited at the Royal Mint in 1843. It bears the royal stamp ENRI. REX ("King Henry") but this was added later, in the reign of Henry III. The first legal definition of sterling silver appeared in 1275, when a statute of Edward I specified that 12  troy ounces of silver for coinage should contain 11 ounces 2+14  pennyweights of silver and 17+34 pennyweights of alloy, with 20 pennyweights to the troy ounce. [12] This is (not precisely) equivalent to a millesimal fineness of 926.

In Colonial America, sterling silver was used for currency and general goods as well. Between 1634 and 1776, some 500 silversmiths created items in the "New World" ranging from simple buckles to ornate Rococo coffee pots. Although silversmiths of this era were typically familiar with all precious metals, they primarily worked in sterling silver. The colonies lacked an assay office during this time (the first would be established in 1814), so American silversmiths adhered to the standard set by the London Goldsmiths Company: sterling silver consisted of 91.5–92.5% by weight silver and 8.5–7.5 wt% copper. [13] Stamping each of their pieces with their personal maker's mark, colonial silversmiths relied upon their own status to guarantee the quality and composition of their products. [13]

Colonial silversmiths used many of the techniques developed by those in Europe. Casting was frequently the first step in manufacturing silver pieces, as silver workers would melt down sterling silver into easily manageable ingots. Occasionally, they would create small components (e.g. teapot legs) by casting silver into iron or graphite molds, but it was rare for an entire piece to be fabricated via casting. [14]

More commonly, a silversmith would forge an ingot into the desired shape, often hammering the thinned silver against specially shaped dies to "mass produce" simple shapes like the oval end of a spoon.[ citation needed ] The hammering occurred at room temperature, and, like any cold forming process, caused work hardening of the silver, which become increasingly brittle and difficult to shape. [14] To restore the workability, the silversmith would anneal the piece—that is, heat it to a dull red and then quench it in water—to relieve the stresses in the material and return it to a more ductile state. [15]

Hammering required more time than all other silver manufacturing processes, and therefore accounted for the majority of labor costs. [14] Silversmiths would then seam parts together to create complex and artistic items, sealing the gaps with a solder of 80 wt% silver and 20 wt% bronze. Finally, they would file and polish their work to remove all seams, finishing off with engraving and stamping the smith's mark. [16]

The American revolutionary Paul Revere was regarded as one of the best silversmiths from this "Golden Age of American Silver". Following the Revolutionary War, Revere acquired and made use of a silver rolling mill from England. [17] Not only did the rolling mill increase his rate of production [18] hammering and flattening silver took most of a silversmith's timehe was able to roll and sell silver of appropriate, uniform thickness to other silversmiths. [19] He retired a wealthy artisan, his success partly due to this strategic investment. Although he is celebrated for his beautiful hollowware, Revere made his fortune primarily on low-end goods produced by the mill, such as flatware. [20] With the onset of the first Industrial Revolution, silversmithing declined as an artistic occupation.

From about 1840 to 1940 in the United States and Europe, sterling silver cutlery (US: 'flatware') became de rigueur when setting a proper table. There was a marked increase in the number of silver companies that emerged during that period. The height of the silver craze was during the 50-year period from 1870 to 1920. Flatware lines during this period sometimes included up to 100 different types of pieces.

Hallmarks

Some countries developed systems of hallmarking silver:

Uses

A selection of English sterling silver tableware spoons English sterling silver tableware spoons.jpg
A selection of English sterling silver tableware spoons
Pair of sterling silver forks StirlingSilverForks.jpg
Pair of sterling silver forks

Individual eating implements often included:[ citation needed ]

This was especially true during the Victorian period, when etiquette dictated no food should be touched with one's fingers.

Serving pieces were often elaborately decorated and pierced and embellished with ivory, and could include any or all of the following:[ citation needed ] carving knife and fork, salad knife and fork, cold meat fork, punch ladle, soup ladle, gravy ladle, casserole-serving spoon, berry spoon, lasagna server, macaroni server, asparagus server, cucumber server, tomato server, olive spoon, cheese scoop, fish knife and fork, pastry server, petit four server, cake knife, bon bon spoon, salt spoon, sugar sifter or caster and crumb remover with brush.

Cutlery sets were often accompanied by tea sets, hot water pots, chocolate pots, trays and salvers, goblets, demitasse cups and saucers, liqueur cups, bouillon cups, egg cups, plates, napkin rings, water and wine pitchers and coasters, candelabra and even elaborate centerpieces.

The interest in sterling silver extended to business (paper clips, mechanical pencils, letter openers, calling card boxes, cigarette cases), to the boudoir (dresser trays, mirrors, hair and suit brushes, pill bottles, manicure sets, shoehorns, perfume bottles, powder bottles, hair clips) and even to children (cups, cutlery, rattles).

Other uses of the specific silver alloy include:

Tarnish and corrosion

Chemically, silver is not very reactiveit does not react with oxygen or water at ordinary temperatures, so does not easily form a silver oxide. However, it is attacked by common components of atmospheric pollution: silver sulfide slowly appears as a black tarnish during exposure to airborne compounds of sulfur (byproducts of the burning of fossil fuels and some industrial processes), and low level ozone reacts to form silver oxide. [22] As the purity of the silver decreases, the problem of corrosion or tarnishing increases because other metals in the alloy, usually copper, may react with oxygen in the air.

The black silver sulfide (Ag2S) is among the most insoluble salts in aqueous solution, a property that is exploited for separating silver ions from other positive ions.

Sodium chloride (NaCl) or common table salt is known to corrode silver-copper alloy, typically seen in silver salt shakers where corrosion appears around the holes in the top.

Several products have been developed for the purpose of polishing silver that serve to remove sulfur from the metal without damaging or warping it. Because harsh polishing and buffing can permanently damage and devalue a piece of antique silver, valuable items are typically hand-polished to preserve the unique patinas of older pieces. Techniques such as wheel polishing, which are typically performed by professional jewelers or silver repair companies, are reserved for extreme tarnish or corrosion.

See also

Footnotes

  1. From ancient Greek στερεός [stereos] = 'solid'.

Related Research Articles

Silver Chemical element, symbol Ag and atomic number 47

Silver is a chemical element with the symbol Ag and atomic number 47. A soft, white, lustrous transition metal, it exhibits the highest electrical conductivity, thermal conductivity, and reflectivity of any metal. The metal is found in the Earth's crust in the pure, free elemental form, as an alloy with gold and other metals, and in minerals such as argentite and chlorargyrite. Most silver is produced as a byproduct of copper, gold, lead, and zinc refining.

Paul Revere American silversmith and Patriot in the American Revolution

Paul Revere was an American silversmith, engraver, early industrialist, Sons of Liberty member and Patriot and Founding Father. He is best known for his midnight ride to alert the colonial militia in April 1775 to the approach of British forces before the battles of Lexington and Concord, as dramatized in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's 1861 poem, "Paul Revere's Ride".

Pewter is a malleable metal alloy consisting of tin (85–99%), antimony, copper (2%), bismuth, and sometimes silver. Copper and antimony act as hardeners but lead may be used in lower grades of pewter, imparting a bluish tint. Pewter has a low melting point, around 170–230 °C (338–446 °F), depending on the exact mixture of metals. The word pewter is probably a variation of the word spelter, a term for zinc alloys.

Troy weight System of units of mass

Troy weight is a system of units of mass that originated in 15th-century England, and is primarily used in the precious metals industry. The troy weight units are the grain, the pennyweight, the troy ounce, and the troy pound. The troy grain is equal to the grain unit of the avoirdupois system, but the troy ounce is heavier than the avoirdupois ounce, and the troy pound is lighter than the avoirdupois pound. One troy ounce equals exactly 31.1034768 grams.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Penny (English coin)</span> Coin introduced in England c. 785

The English penny, originally a coin of 1.3 to 1.5 grams pure silver, was introduced c. 785 by King Offa of Mercia. These coins were similar in size and weight to the continental deniers of the period and to the Anglo-Saxon sceats which had preceded it.

A pennyweight (dwt) is a unit of mass equal to 24 grains, 120 of a troy ounce, 1240 of a troy pound, approximately 0.054857 avoirdupois ounce and exactly 1.55517384 grams. It is abbreviated dwt, d standing for denarius –, and later used as the symbol of an old British penny.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nickel silver</span> Shiny alloy of copper, nickel, and zinc

Nickel silver, Maillechort, German silver, Argentan, new silver, nickel brass, albata, alpacca, is a copper alloy with nickel and often zinc. The usual formulation is 60% copper, 20% nickel and 20% zinc. Nickel silver does not contain the element silver. It is named for its silvery appearance, which can make it attractive as a cheaper and more durable substitute. It is also well suited for being plated with silver. A naturally occurring ore composition in China was smelted into the alloy known as paktong or baitong (白銅). The name "German Silver" refers to the artificial recreation of the natural ore composition by German metallurgists. All modern, commercially important nickel silvers contain significant amounts of zinc, and are sometimes considered a subset of brass.

Cutlery Eating utensils

Cutlery includes any hand implement used in preparing, serving, and especially eating food in Western culture. A person who makes or sells cutlery is called a cutler. The city of Sheffield in England has been famous for the production of cutlery since the 17th century and a train – the Master Cutler – running from Sheffield to London was named after the industry. Bringing affordable cutlery to the masses, stainless steel was developed in Sheffield in the early 20th century.

Tableware Items used for setting a table and serving food

Tableware is any dish or dishware used for setting a table, serving food, and dining. It includes cutlery, glassware, serving dishes, and other items for practical as well as decorative purposes. The quality, nature, variety and number of objects varies according to culture, religion, number of diners, cuisine and occasion. For example, Middle Eastern, Indian or Polynesian food culture and cuisine sometimes limits tableware to serving dishes, using bread or leaves as individual plates. Special occasions are usually reflected in higher quality tableware.

The fineness of a precious metal object represents the weight of fine metal therein, in proportion to the total weight which includes alloying base metals and any impurities. Alloy metals are added to increase hardness and durability of coins and jewelry, alter colors, decrease the cost per weight, or avoid the cost of high-purity refinement. For example, copper is added to the precious metal silver to make a more durable alloy for use in coins, housewares and jewelry. Coin silver, which was used for making silver coins in the past, contains 90% silver and 10% copper, by mass. Sterling silver contains 92.5% silver and 7.5% of other metals, usually copper, by mass.

Britannia silver Alloy of silver

Britannia silver is an alloy of silver containing 11 ozt 10 dwt silver in the pound troy, equivalent to 2324, or 95.833% by weight (mass) silver, the rest usually being copper.

Argentium silver is a brand of modern tarnish-resistant silver alloys, containing either 93.5% or 96% silver. Argentium alloys replace some of the copper in the traditional sterling silver alloy with the metalloid germanium. Argentium's patents refer to percentages of zinc and boron present in Argentium silver. Both Argentium alloys exceed the standard required for hallmarking as sterling silver and Argentium silver 960 meets the standard for hallmarking as Britannia silver.

Stieff Silver

The Stieff Company, Silversmiths, Goldsmiths & Pewterers, located in Baltimore, Maryland, is also known as Kirk-Stieff after 1979.

Silver standards refer to the standards of millesimal fineness for the silver alloy used in the manufacture or crafting of silver objects. This list is organized from highest to lowest millesimal fineness, or purity of the silver.

Silver hallmarks Stamp indicating the purity of silver objects

A silver object that is to be sold commercially is, in most countries, stamped with one or more silver hallmarks indicating the purity of the silver, the mark of the manufacturer or silversmith, and other (optional) markings to indicate date of manufacture and additional information about the piece. In some countries, the testing of silver objects and marking of purity is controlled by a national assayer's office.

The Revere Copper Company is a copper rolling mill in the United States. It operated North America's first copper rolling mill. It was started by Paul Revere in 1801 in Canton, Massachusetts, and developed a commercially viable process for manufacturing copper sheets.

Group 11 element Group of elements in the poriodic table containing copper, silver and gold

Group 11, by modern IUPAC numbering, is a group of chemical elements in the periodic table, consisting of copper (Cu), silver (Ag), and gold (Au). Roentgenium (Rg) is also placed in this group in the periodic table, although no chemical experiments have yet been carried out to confirm that it behaves like the heavier homologue to gold. Group 11 is also known as the coinage metals, due to their usage in minting coins—while the rise in metal prices mean that silver and gold are no longer used for circulating currency, remaining in use for bullion, copper remains a common metal in coins to date, either in the form of copper clad coinage or as part of the cupronickel alloy. They were most likely the first three elements discovered. Copper, silver, and gold all occur naturally in elemental form.

Penny (British pre-decimal coin) Former denomination of sterling coinage

The British pre-decimal penny was a denomination of sterling coinage worth 1/240 of one pound or 1/12 of one shilling. Its symbol was d, from the Roman denarius. It was a continuation of the earlier English penny, and in Scotland it had the same monetary value as one pre-1707 Scottish shilling. The penny was originally minted in silver, but from the late 18th century it was minted in copper, and then after 1860 in bronze.

Revere bells

Revere bells were cast out of the bell foundry of Paul Revere starting in 1792 in Boston. Revere became known professionally for his foundries and for being one of the few competent bell makers in the United States at the time.

R. Wallace & Sons was formed in Wallingford, Connecticut and incorporated in 1879. As of 1893, this company manufactured silver and plated ware and cutlery and had about 600 employees.

References

  1. "The Care of Silver"; Web article by Jeffrey Herman, silversmith, specialist in silver restoration and conservation. Retrieved 28 November 2017.
  2. Tarnish-Resistant Silver Alloys Silversmithing.com, Retrieved 04-16-2018
  3. The Journal of the Manchester Geographical Society, Volumes 19–20. 1903. Retrieved 2016-09-16.
  4. Huffman, Joseph P. (2003-11-13). Family, Commerce, and Religion in London and Cologne. ISBN   9780521521932 . Retrieved 2016-09-16.
  5. "sterling, n.1 and adj.". OED Online. December 2011. Oxford University Press. Entry 189985 (accessed February 28, 2012).
  6. Blackstone, Sir William (1922). Commentaries on the Laws of England . Retrieved 2016-09-19. The most plausible opinion seems to be that adopted by those to etymologists, that the name was derived from the Esterlingi, or Easterlings, as those Saxons were anciently called who inhabited that district of Germany now occupied by the Hanse Towns and their appendages, the earliest traders in modern Europe.
  7. Chamber's Journal of Popular Literature, Science and Arts, Volume 4. December 10, 1887. p. 786. In the time of King Richard I., monie coined in the east parts of Germanie began to be of especial request in England for puritie thereof, and was called Easterling monie, as all the inhabitants of those parts were called Easterlings; and shortly after, some of the countrie skillfull in mint matters and alloys were sent into this realme to bring the coin to perfection; which since that time was called of them Sterling, for Easterling.
  8. Zupko, Ronald Edward (1985). A Dictionary of Weights and Measures for the British Isles. Independence Square Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society. ISBN   978-0-87169-168-2. In England the term "sterling," originally "easterling," and in france the synonymous term "esterlin," were used to denote the twentieth part of the ounce, also called "penny" in England, and "denier," from denarius, in France.
  9. Stenton, F M; Dolley, Reginald Hugh Michael. R.H.M. Dolley. (ed.). "Anglo-Saxon Coins. Studies presented to F.M. Stenton on the occasion of his 80th birthday, 17 May 1960. [With plates, including a portrait]". WorldCat . Taylor & Francis. pp. 266–283. GGKEY:1JURCGTRPJ8.
  10. "The Trail of the Easterlings" (PDF). 1949. Retrieved 2016-09-18.
  11. "History of Sterling Silver". SilverGallery.com. Retrieved 2020-03-12.
  12. Accounts and Papers of the House of Commons: 1866. Vol. Second. House of Commons. 23 March 1866. pp. 14–15. OCLC   11900114.
  13. 1 2 Tunis, Edwin (1999). Colonial Craftsmen: And the Beginnings of American Industry. p. 81.
  14. 1 2 3 Martello, Robert (2010). Midnight Ride, Industrial Dawn: Paul Revere and the Growth of American Enterprise. p. 42.
  15. Tunis, Edwin (1999). Colonial Craftsmen: And the Beginnings of American Industry. p. 83.
  16. Martello, Robert (2010). Midnight Ride, Industrial Dawn: Paul Revere and the Growth of American Enterprise. pp. 42–43.
  17. Martello, Robert (2010). Midnight Ride, Industrial Dawn: Paul Revere and the Growth of American Enterprise. p. 107.
  18. Martello, Robert (2010). Midnight Ride, Industrial Dawn: Paul Revere and the Growth of American Enterprise. p. 109.
  19. Kauffman, Henry J. (1995). The Colonial Silversmith: His Techniques & His Products. p. 126.
  20. Falino, Jeannine; Ward, Gerald W. R., eds. (2001). New England Silver & Silversmithing 1620–1815. p. 156.
  21. Sadoon, Asmaa A.; Khadka, Prabhat; Freeland, Jack; Gundampati, Ravi Kumar; Manso, Ryan H.; Ruiz, Mason; Krishnamurthi, Venkata R.; Thallapuranam, Suresh Kumar; Chen, Jingyi; Wang, Yong (2020-03-02). Liu, Shuang-Jiang (ed.). "Silver Ions Caused Faster Diffusive Dynamics of Histone-Like Nucleoid-Structuring Proteins in Live Bacteria". Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 86 (6): e02479–19. doi:10.1128/AEM.02479-19. ISSN   0099-2240. PMC   7054089 . PMID   31953329.
  22. Watt, Susan (2003). "How silver reacts" . Silver. The elements. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish. p.  13. ISBN   0-7614-1464-9.

Works cited

  • All About Antique Silver with International Hallmarks, 2nd printing (2007), by Diana Sanders Cinamon, AAA Publishing, San Bernardino, CA.
  • Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English, by lexicographer Eric Partridge.
  • Silver in America, 1840–1940: A Century of Splendor, third edition (1997), by Charles L. Venable; Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, NY.
  • Tiffany Silver Flatware, 1845–1905: When Dining Was an Art, by William P. Hood, Jr.; 1999; published by the Antique Collectors Club Ltd., Suffolk, England.
  • The Encyclopedia of American Silver Manufacturers, revised fourth edition (1998), by Dorothy T. Rainwater and Judy Redfield; Schiffer Publishing Ltd., Atglen, PA.
  • The Book of Old Silver, English – American – Foreign, With All Available Hallmarks Including Sheffield Plate Marks, by Seymour B. Wyler; 1937; Crown Publishers, Inc., New York, NY.
  • International Hallmarks on Silver Collected by Tardy, 5th English Language reprint (2000); original publication date unknown, date of first softcover publication 1985; author unknown; publisher unknown.
  • Falino, Jeannine; Ward, Gerald W. R., eds. (2001). New England Silver & Silversmithing 1620–1815. Boston: Colonial Society of Massachusetts.
  • Kauffman, Henry J. (1995). The Colonial Silversmith: His Techniques & His Products. Mendham, NJ: Astragal. p. 42. ISBN   978-1879335653.
  • Tunis, Edwin (1999). Colonial Craftsmen: And the Beginnings of American Industry. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP. ISBN   978-0801862281.
  • Martello, Robert (2010). Midnight Ride, Industrial Dawn: Paul Revere and the Growth of American Enterprise. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP. ISBN   978-0801897580.