During the late 20th Century, retail stores made a transition from
‘silverware departments’ to ‘serve-ware departments’.
Selections of traditional silver serve-wares were supplemented with both hand-crafted and mass-produced decorative and utilitarian wares of pewter, brass, copper, stainless steel, tin and polished aluminum.
Each of these metals is extracted from ore.
ORE: natural rocks containing metal
Metals are extracted from ores by metal refineries.
Metal refineries reduce, concentrate and purify each metal.
Metal refineries alloy and fabricate each metal for artisan or mass-production.
Metal refineries reduce metals from ores by chemicals or smelting (intense heat liquefies metals in crushed ore). Refiners separate and purify each metal for use in their pure state—or they mix two or more metals to create alloys, as commissioned by artisan or mass-producers of flatware, serve-ware, cookware and furniture.
- Alloys are developed for many reasons: changing hardness, density, melting point, value, color and corrosion resistance.
- Every pure metal and every alloy has different properties of malleability, ductility and density.
- Refineries fabricate metals into cast ingots, rolled sheets or extruded wire of different weights, gauges, sizes and value.
Fairly abundant in ores, silver is lustrous, malleable and ductile. Silver has been used for ornaments and coins since about 4,000 B.C. Silver conducts electricity and heat better than any other metal and is currently vital in many industries. The melting temperature of silver is 1764º F.
Pure: 1,000 of 1,000 parts of silver are pure.
Alloyed: Sterling silver is an alloy of 925 parts pure silver, and 75 parts copper. (a standard established in 1238 by King Henry III of England).
International Marking standards:
Sterling or 925.
Coin silver or 900 (900 of 1,000 parts pure silver).
800 silver or 800 (800 of 1,000 parts pure silver).
Sheffield silver plate was developed in England in the 1740s. Flat sheets of sterling silver were fused –both under and over flat sheets of copper –as a desirable metal for hollow-wares.
Since the 1840’s, fusing sheets of silver to copper has been replaced by electroplating metals as nickel, brass or copper with a coating of silver.
If you see current silver products labeled Sheffield, it means the product is made in Sheffield or made by a company named Sheffield. Original Sheffield wares are valued by collector’s.
Copper is one of the earliest metals known to man who employed it for both ornamental and functional use. Copper is called the First Metal Age. Copper is malleable, ductile, resistant to corrosion and second only to silver as a conductor of heat and electricity. It is the critical component of bronze and brass and also used as a hardening agent in alloys e.g. sterling silver.
A ‘supreme’ conductor of heat, copper is wonderfully sensitive to temperature changes. It heats quickly and evenly and cools quickly when removed from the heat source. Quality copper cookware is expensive and must be lined to avoid copper’s toxic contact with most foods. Copper discolors and requires polishing.
Bronze, the Second Metal Age, was developed as an alloy of copper and tin. Today, bronze is also alloyed with aluminum, manganese or silicon, each having specific technical application. Bronze is strong, hard and corrosion resistant—making it desirable as outdoor sculpture.
Steel is 85% iron alloyed with other elements. High carbon steel is 12% carbon—making it similar to— but harder than cast iron.
Because stainless steel resists corrosion and is non-reactive to food, it has wide application in homes and public places. Alloys include high carbon steel, austenitic steel and martensitic steel; each having different technical application for home products.
Stainless steel is stain less—not stain proof. An alloy of iron, chrome and nickel, stainless steel was developed in England in 1913. Different formulas have varying tensile strength; 18/8 or 18/10 means iron is alloyed with 18 parts chrome and 8 or 10 parts nickel. 18/10 is considered superior.
Used since ancient times, tin is a soft metal. Tin is corrosion resistant, ductile and exceptionally malleable. Tin is the major element of pewter and tin is alloyed with copper to make bronze.
Pewter is approximately 92% tin alloyed with antimony and copper. Today’s silvery gray pewter does not tarnish, although it is very soft and dents easily. Patinas of commercial pewter wares can range from dull — to a high polish.
Old pewter was an alloy of tin and lead and very dark in color. Old pewter is valued by collectors—but pewter made with lead is toxic and is not produced today. Pewter wares containing lead must not be used for food or beverage.
Aluminum is the most abundant of metals, but it was not isolated until the 19th Century. It is currently second in usage to iron/steel. Aluminum is lightweight, easy to shape, and has diverse application for homes, vehicles and the food industry. Aluminum is a successful cookware metal primarily because it is an excellent conductor of heat (although less than copper).
For the past thirty years, polished aluminum serve-ware has become increasingly desirable because of the beauty and diversity of products made by artisan metal designers and mass-producers. Some hand-crafted aluminum artisan products are very costly because of labor—but all polished aluminum serve-ware offers durability and low maintenance.
The metals as discussed in this post relate only to metal serve-ware.
Metallurgy science and technology impacts everything and everyone in our world.
Pat Breen: EYEWITNESS TO QUALITY
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