HOW DO YOU KNOW IF THE QUALITY OF METAL SERVE-WARE IS GOOD?   ©    

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Metal serve-ware endures for many generations.
Choose wisely and enjoy years of their lustrous beauty.  

Raw Materials:

Retail prices for serve-ware made of sterling silver, silver-plate, stainless steel, pewter, copper, brass, bronze, tin, and polished aluminum are based upon the cost of each metal  — coupled with the cost of artisan or mass-production labor.

Methods of Production:

Mass-production of good quality metal serve-ware is both capital and labor intensive. Excellent quality adds labor costs because metal finishing and hand-polishing requires skilled hand-labor.

When deciding between serving products of the same-metal, same-function,  always compare cheaper items with more expensive items of similar style, size and shape.  You should readily see quality differences in edges, borders, spouts, finials, handles and feet. Making qualified comparisons is an excellent way to train our eyes to differentiate detail.

Is the gauge of the metal of serve-ware heavy enough to perform its’ function? e.g. Is the large flat surface of a metal tray heavy enough to bear the weight of a coffee and tea set?

If the edge of metal serve-ware is plain, be sure it’s not sharp or thin —or it can easily dent or bend.

Whether feet, finials, handles or borders of serve-wares are stamped or cast—in any metal—each ‘part’ must be articulate.

Finally:
Examine the following elements to assess if production quality is good.  

Metal:
Metal products having intrinsic value should have assay designations inscribed or stamped on the back of each piece. Sterling is marked sterling 
or .925.

Silver plated wares are inscribed with the words silver plate, the brand or manufacturer’s name and country of origin. If the base metal is marked EPNS,this identifies a superior base metal: Electro Plated Nickel Silver.

Stainless steel, pewter, copper, brass, bronze, tin, and polished aluminum products should be labeled—even if not required  by law.

For me,
a manufacturer who does not label the metal content of each product
waves a ‘red flag’ about the product’s value, quality and durability.

Recent shopping excursions in ‘traditional’ stores revealed many metal serve-ware products without any inscriptions or  labels that ‘identified’ the metal  and this is also true of most catalog text.  As a consumer, former retail buyer and marketing professor, this disturbs me very much and should disturb you, too!

Why aren’t all products labeled with names of all raw materials?
Why doesn’t retail management demand labeling transparency ?
Why aren’t salespersons knowledgeable about products they sell?

Weight:
Quality serve-ware should weigh what it ‘looks-like’ it weighs. If a hollow silver product is heavy–but ‘looks’ as if it should be light–it’s probably made of an inferior alloy called ∗slush metal or it may be weighted with a filler as cement.

If a hollow metal object is light— but ‘looks’ as if it should be heavy, it’s probably an inferior gauge of metal which will easily dent.

∗Slush metal is an inferior alloy made of scrap and metal
filings used for castings. It’s heavy, usually very porous—
and does not hold plating very well.            

Edges:
Edges of metal wares must be of a substantial gauge or they can be easily damaged.

Borders:
Rolled borders add substance to the edges of all metal serve-wares and they may also be stamped with a design.  Borders applied to the edges of serve-ware may be fabricated by hand or may be a casting or stamping.  Quality of the cast metal and articulation of the design are paramount.

Handles, Spouts, Finials, Feet, Pedestals:
These components are each cast independently —then soldered onto a hollow shape. Examine them for articulation of design and be sure all soldered joints are sturdy and appear seamless.

Surface ornamentation:
Engraving, chasing, etching, hammering, repouseé, engine turning, filigree, granulation, and enameling should be examined for consistency of quality for each technique.  See the previous post, DECORATIVE TEXTURE ON METAL SURFACES.


Finishing:
Removing tell-tale signs that metal has been annealed and mold marks have been ground-off is achieved by meticulous polishing.  Final polishing of each product by hand or machine can create a range of finishes from ‘bright to butler’ —but— be sure the finish is consistent.

It’s important to buy what we like,
even though our choices are influenced by cost and required maintenance.

DEMAND LABELING TRANSPARENCY ! 

Pat Breen: EYEWITNESS TO QUALITY

MY NEXT POST: JUDGING VINTAGE SERVEWARE

WHICH  SERVE-WARE  SHOULD YOU CHOOSE ? ©

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 SO MANY FUNCTIONAL AND DECORATIVE SHAPES
SO MANY DIFFERENT METALS AND PRICE RANGES

Every homemaker from newly-wed to empty-nester— uses serve-ware everyday. Documented exhibitions of metal wares—from ceremonial to functional— bring record-breaking crowds to art galleries and museums.

Celebrated for centuries, metal serve-ware is a category ‘apart’.
But excellent serve-ware is also made of glass and ceramics.
(Visit my Glassware and Ceramic Dinnerware Posts.)

What metal serve-ware should YOU choose?

Differentiate serve-ware YOU want and need for daily use
— from serve-ware YOU want and need for entertaining.

Many metal serve-ware products work well for both.
Metal serve-ware lasts many lifetimes: invest in styles you really like!

round casserole

Your personal lifestyle should determine which metals and functional shapes are best for you, e.g. If you like to serve ‘oven-to-table’ , some of today’s quality cookware even have decorative holders that eliminate a need for trivets.

Style, cost and maintenance will impact your selections.
If your taste is eclectic,
a baroque silver compote can look wonderful on a contemporary coffee table.

Before buying,
decide if you have time to perform required maintenance.

Sterling and silver-plated serve-ware is not only costly,
it requires regular maintenance. 

But if you prefer the tradition and elegance of these wares, know that current production of new sterling and silver-plated hollow-ware is minimal: prices are high.

However, if you want to buy silver serve-ware, many traditional retail stores currently feature vintage silver-ware next to selections of new silver serve-ware —and quality vintage and used silver serve-ware is available in flea markets, charity bazaars, estate sales and thrift shops.

Be prepared:shopping these markets requires patience.
Be sure to have a magnifying glass—and a lot of UNBIASED product knowledge.

  • Sterling or silver-plate must be washed and thoroughly dried by hand after use.
  • Sulphur in the air tarnishes silver— so silver products should be properly stored between uses.
  • Special wrappings and/or air-tight cupboards discourage tarnish.
  • Plan adequate storage for metal serve-ware so pieces cannot damage each other.
  • Plan what you can spend for both everyday and/or company serve-ware.

Stainless steel, pewter, brass, copper, tin and polished aluminum are workhorse metals—- suitable for everyday and company serve-wares— and these metals are easy to maintain.  If you haven’t visited serve-ware departments recently, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by diverse styles, shapes and metals of low maintenance metal wares; at prices you can afford.

From flowers to foods—appetizers to entrees and desserts—a mix of metals makes table settings more interesting and meals more memorable.  e.g. a large copper tub can serve as a planter or a spectacular wine or beer cooler.

N.B. Brand, Price and Style are NOT synonyms of quality.

 Pat Breen: EYEWITNESS TO QUALITY

MY NEXT POST:  HOW DO YOU KNOW IF METAL SERVE-WARE IS GOOD?

 

DECORATIVE TEXTURE ON METAL SURFACES©

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After metal ingots, sheet stock, wire and tubular stock are fabricated into serve-ware by artisan or mass-production factories, a range of artisan or mass-production techniques can be applied to decorate or embellish the metal surfaces.  Most of these techniques are probably familiar to you.

Engraving:
Engraving tools displace slivers of metal from the surface of serve-ware

to create designs, monograms, dates, endearments, awards , etc.

• Hand engraving demands skilled craftsmanship.

• Machine engraving has become standard  because of a shortage of skilled engravers, but for me—machine engraving looks too perfect. Although engraving machines are guided by hand, they cannot replicate the fluidity and nuances of hand engraving —which has become very costly.

Designs that simulate engraving are commonly die-stamped on metal surfaces of waiters and trays to prevent inevitable scratches from showing. 

gallery tray

Chasing:

Chasing resembles engraving— but does not displace metal.
Chased designs are made by hand-tapping sharp tools to ‘indent’ metal surfaces.The ‘look’ of chasing can be mass-produced by die-stamping.

Etching:

Etched designs are hand-painted onto metal with acid— which bites into the metal —leaving a frosted design. Stencils are used for duplication. 

Hand Hammering:

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A round-nose ball-peen hammer is used to tap controlled indentations on metal surfaces. The look of hand-hammering can be mass-produced by die-stamping. 

Repouseé:

oxidation
The design on this champagne bottle coaster is repouseé—a technique that creates a three-dimensional surface in metal. ‘Relief’ designs are pushed ‘out’ from the back of the metal —and refined by working on the front. Repouseé is mass-produced by die-stamping or casting.

Engine turning:

Engine turning is an engraving technique using a special machine. A skilled crafts-person guides  a power-driven tool with one hand while guiding a second power-driven tool in a different direction with their other hand. The result is a fine-grained, repetitive (usually geometric)  pattern on metal.


Filigree/ Piercing:

Filigree is an open, lacy design made by manipulating wire by hand or machine.   The lacy design can remain open— or it can be soldered to a metal backing.

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Piercing is also open and lacy.  It differs from filigree because the designs are created by cutting-out shapes of metal from a flat sheet of metal.

Granulation:

Minute round granules of metal are applied to a flat surface of metal — as a design or all-over texture.  Granulation is unique because both granules and base metal are heated together almost to their melting point— and pulled from the heat — as soon as the granules adhere to the flat surface —without solder.

Enameling:

Transparent, translucent or opaque glass is ground to a very fine powder, applied to metal and melted — without melting the base metal.  After man learned to make glass, the art of enameling on metal flourished in many cultures.

 FINISHING TOUCHES:

Oxidation:
Oxidation is a chemical ‘tarnish’ used to darken silver in order to exaggerate and enhance ‘relief’ designs.  The darkened color remains in the lower recesses of the design and polished off all raised surfaces to create highlights.

Polishing:
Most metal products can be polished to varying degrees of luster —from a soft butler finish, achieved with special abrasives to look as if they have been polished for years ‘by the butler’ or to a bright, mirror-like finish—and many stages of luster in between.

The polishing and plating departments of every metal factory I visited were busy and so clean,  they looked like four-star kitchens !

 Pat Breen: EYEWITNESS TO QUALITY

MY NEXT POST: WHICH SERVE-WARE SHOULD YOU CHOOSE?


 

KEYS TO SERVE-WARE QUALITY © 

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EDGES AND BORDERS :

Plain edges:
plain cut edge for blog

When serve-ware made of any metal is of a substantial gauge —so that the cut edge is not sharp, the edge may be simply polished.  Edges are also rolled under or finished with an applied border.

Rolled edges:

rolled border

Edges of hollow metal shapes are rolled under to become stronger. Designs can be die-stamped into the rolled edges.  This picture shows the reverse edge of a bowl: the rolled border is stamped with a gadroon design to replicate rope.

Gadroon is traced to Dutch seafaring traders who decorated modest
possessions with rope—a commodity vital to life on a boat.  As
traders acquired wealth,  they chose ‘rope-like’ ornamentation on
metal wares and wood furniture.

Applied border:

‘Applied’ decorations of cast metal also add strength to edges of metal shapes. Tailored and ornamental designs are individually cast and polished before being soldered to edges of basic shapes.

applied borders ready for plating

Here we see Baroque border castings (made of Britannia metal–an excellent, non-porous white metal alloy) soldered to brass bowls prior to being silver-plated.

    SPOUTS, FINIALS, HANDLES  and  FEET:

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Molten sterling silver is cast in molds to become spouts, finials, handles and feet of sterling hollow shapes.   They are added to designated metal shapes by soldering. All added component parts must appear seamless.

silver handle

Castings for silver plated wares should be made of a high quality, non-porous molten silver alloy that will hold a plating of silver exceptionally well.  Mold marks on all cast parts are ground away and each casting is hand polished. Whether ornate or tailored, castings of feet, spouts and handles, etc. are soldered to their respective coffee and tea pots, bowls, pitchers, trays before being silver-plated.

Beware of manufacturers who use cheap alloys for
their castings—especially those who use slush metal
(melted scrap metal) so porous, silver plating rubs off.

Spouts, Finials, Handles and  Feet on serving wares made of brass, copper, pewter, stainless steel, tin and polished aluminum —must be carefully finished, polished and soldered to their respective hollow shapes. Examine them carefully: they should appear seamless — as if they were made in one piece.

 Pat Breen: EYEWITNESS TO QUALITY

MY NEXT POST : DECORATIVE SURFACE TEXTURE

                    

SHAPING METAL SERVE-WARE ©   

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Man’s discovery of smelting ore to separate metals led to many creative methods of shaping metals. The Industrial Revolution spawned mass-production technologies for casting, stamping, forging, raising, spinning — and other techniques that produce duplicate metal products at affordable prices — using base metal alloys and electroplated finishes.

Today’s metal serve-ware is made using most of the following production techniques. Because quality is a synthesis of raw materials and production methods, this post will help you understand how metal serve-wares are made.

STAMPING:
More than 6,000 years ago,
early man used rocks and bones to beat metals flat.
He use the same primitive tools to cut, shape and decorate the metal.

Today’s refineries produce flat, rolled sheet stock in a range of alloys from which artisans hand cut shapes using special saws.  Mass-producers cut duplicate shapes with steel dies using a mass-production technique called stamping (similar to how a cookie cutter stamps out duplicate shapes of dough).

Die-stamping (also called drawing or vaulting)  metal is a complex, capital intensive method for mass-producing three-dimensional hollow shapes.  A pre-cut flat shape of metal is pressed between positive and negative dies that draw or stretch the metal to assume the shape and depth of the dies.

Some metals are more brittle than others and must be annealed (heated) in order to be stamped.The heavier the metal and the thicker the gauge of the metal, the heavier and costlier are the dies and stamping equipment — but speed and perfect duplication of products amortizes this costly technology.

CASTING:
After early man learned to use heat to separate metal from ore,
he developed a way to cast molten metal —using molds.

Duplicating objects in molds began with Ciré Perdue (lost wax)—a technique wherein a shape created in wax is encased in clay, plaster or sand. When heat is applied, the wax melts and runs out through a hole in the plaster or clay or sand and the wax is lost.

Molten metal is poured into the shaped cavity left by the lost wax and when it solidifies and the clay, plaster or sand is removed— a perfectly cast metal reproduction of the original shape is revealed.

When I introduced ‘casting’ to my FIT students, I asked if any of them ever made creepy crawlers.  Most students laughed as they remembered using this very popular ‘casting’ kit for children.

My nieces and nephews loved to ‘scare’ me with ‘creepy-crawlers’
made by pouring liquid Plastigoop into metal molds resembling bugs.
The Plastigoop was cured by heat and cooled. When the rubbery ‘creepy’ replicas were removed from the molds — the fun began!

Molds made of diverse materials are capable of producing many hundreds of duplicate products and artisans and mass-production factories have perfected many methods of casting duplicate metal shapes. Industrial methods are varied depending upon the industry but for anyone casting metal, care must be taken to avoid impurities in the metal —which cause pitting and porosity. Articulation of the design, elimination of mold markings and quality polishing are critical elements of castings.

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Any solid object can be used to make a mold:
from which is made a casting.

When I designed handbags for a NYC company, I bought a horse-head bottle opener in Italy and took it to a casting artisan in NYC—who made a mold of the horse-head. Using the mold, he cast hundreds of molten metal duplicates of the horse-head, gold-plated them, and soldered them to hand-bag locks.

        Our ‘horse-head’ handbag won by a nose: I still enjoy mine!

RAISING:

In order to raise or stretch metal into three-dimensions, early man pounded metals flat and continued beating the metal against shaped surfaces with rocks and bones.

This method is still used by metal smiths although hammers and anvils have replaced rocks and bones. Hammer marks may be retained —or smoothed with a planishing hammer.        

FORGING:
Forging is the art of shaping metals—especially iron— by hammering.

Most of the ornate iron gates we see around the globe are hand-forged.
Sections of forged metal pieces can be joined by soldering.


Q. How does a  flat-bottom metal shape become a round-bottom metal shape?
A. SPINNING:

Each flat-bottom hollow shape begins as a flat round disk — cut from metal sheet stock. A single disk is placed between heavy, deep positive and negative steel dies in a large automatic press.Tremendous pressure stretches the disk into a deep, flat-bottomed, hollow shape.

spinning flat bottom
Spinning: 

a labor intensive process that turns
flat-bottomed shapes into round-bottomed shapes.

Metal mandrels:
chuck pic for blog

rounded bottom for blog
A metal mandrel—made in the exact deep and rounded configuration of the finished product— is securely mounted on a lathe.

A die-stamped metal shape with a flat bottom is placed over the mandrel. A skilled operator presses a lubricated metal lever against the flat-bottom and as the lathe rapidly spins, the operator increases pressure—until the flat metal appears to ‘flow’—and the flat bottom becomes round.

Labor costs for spinning are amortized by the speed of the process.

 Pat Breen: EYEWITNESS TO QUALITY

MY NEXT POST:  KEYS TO SERVE-WARE QUALITY