Silver jug on a budget

This jug was waiting to be bought in the local thrift store. How far has it travelled and what stories could it tell since it was first made in the late 1700s?
This jug was waiting to be bought in the local thrift store. How far has it travelled and what stories could it tell since it was first made in the late 1700s?

First day back at work and ended the day with a quick trip to the local thrift shop to help lesson the trauma of the end of the holidays. I realised after I cleaned this jug which was in a blackened state in the bric a brac section for $3 I should have done two things…

  1. Taken a picture before I cleaned it to show what it looked like (which I will do in the future)
  2. Photographed it on a less busy surface, although I did rather like the way that tablecloth reflected off the surface of the jug.

Detail of the base of the jug. The copper can just be seen along the edge of the square plinth
Detail of the base of the jug. The copper can just be seen along the edge of the square plinth

This is not solid silver but I have reason to believe that it is a piece of old Sheffield Plate. For the uninitiated, Sheffield plate is not Electroplate. It starts as two ingots of pure silver that were bonded to an ingot of copper. This “sandwich” was then beaten or rolled out to a certain thickness and the plate is then used to make cheaper copies of solid silver items. This jug shows signs of the underlying copper peeping through in a few places which I actually think adds to the piece.

After discovering a way to deposit silver onto cheaper metal using electrolysis (EPNS and EPBM) Sheffield plate fell out of favour in the 1840s. It was more costly and every edge had to be finished with a separate foil of silver or fold to cover the copper. It does however have a much better silver colour.

Handle detail
Handle detail

How old? Well if it is the real deal this little jug dates from the 1780-90s!

Style? Adam, neo-classical. It is known as a helmet cream jug because the shape was based on an upturned classical helmet.

What is it worth? – I am not a dealer. I have learnt about antiques since I was a child but do not know their current values. I just love to collect things for their wonderful and unique qualities and the workmanship they show. I do know that $3 was a genuine bargain though!

Some silver polish and hey presto! I am looking forward to using something that was on the tea tables of families such as Jane Austen’s for our next tea party.

Front view. A close inspection shows how the silver was rolled over the underlying copper.
Front view. A close inspection shows how the silver was rolled over the underlying copper.

NOTE: If you are looking out for genuine old Sheffield Plate be careful! A large amount of imitations were made in the mid to late 20th Century with the silver being plated onto copper to give the impression of old Sheffield wares. Some of these will be marked as “reproduction Sheffield Plate” other will not. Seeing copper under a silver item does not guarantee it is old. Genuine old Sheffield Plate may or may not be marked with a range of marks but it certainly won’t be marked “Sheffield Plate” as this is a modern term.

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