Silver, valued for its rarity and attractive lustre, has for centuries been mined and formed into an extensive range of domestic, personal, religious, and ceremonial objects.
Silver is one of the most versatile and singular precious metals: it is malleable and ductile and has a relatively low melting point, meaning that it can be cast using basic workshop equipment. Pure silver is too soft for making wrought objects, so it is alloyed with small amounts of other metals, including copper, to harden it.
A virtually indestructible material, it was often melted down and refashioned when convention dictated change or during periods of war and economic uncertainty when silver artefacts were converted to bullion or coinage.
Silver can be shaped, decorated and embellished using an extraordinarily diverse range of techniques, from raising and casting to chasing, embossing, engraving, gilding, and piercing.
In the mid-18th century, the production of silverware was revolutionized by the invention of Sheffield plate, made by fusing silver with copper.
This was followed by the introduction of electroplating in the 1840s: a process used to apply very thin coatings of pure silver over a base metal by means of an electric current producing a brilliant surface.
Being a precious metal, silver has always expressed wealth and status. In Britain, to protect the consumer, all luxury articles made of silver or silver gilt were required by law to carry a series of hallmarks: during the nineteenth century, silver items were stamped with a hallmark, a date letter, a maker’s mark, and a silver quality mark.
In Australia and New Zealand law, hallmarking of silver objects has never been required, so makers devised their own marks to give a personal guarantee that the quality was of sterling standard. When a firm’s management changed, the old punches were discarded and a new version was brought into use.
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