Metal serve-ware endures for many generations.
Choose wisely and enjoy years of their lustrous beauty.
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.
Examine the following elements to assess if production quality is good.
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.
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?
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 of metal wares must be of a substantial gauge or they can be easily damaged.
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.
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.
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