JUDGING VINTAGE  SERVE-WARE©

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Purchasing vintage silver serve-ware is an excellent option if you appreciate its’ beauty —and are willing to perform proper maintenance.

Because many people are simplifying their lives, and because today’s melting value of sterling and silver-plated hollow-ware is usually minimal, many people are selling their silver-wares through flea markets, thrift shops, estate sales and charity bazaars.

That makes NOW—  a good time to shop for these wares — but know that resale prices may be established by someone who knows little about the quality or worth of these wares.  Prices are easier to negotiate if you use astute product knowledge.

At estate sales, don’t presume everything in an upscale home is good.
I’ve seen estate sales-agents fill homes with left-overs from other estate sales.

How can you know if the product is from a well-kept home—or where was it kept in the home?  a hot attic? a damp cellar?Temperature and humidity affect the contraction and expansion of ceramics, wood and metal finishes.

Carry a powerful magnifying glass: It’s important to read— metal content—identifying hallmarks—and manufacturer’s names usually struck on the bottom of each piece.

And it’s even more important to understand metals and production techniques in order to judge the quality of metal serve-ware—whether the metal is utilitarian—or a metal you must polish.

If a product needs silver-plating, be prepared that this has become very expensive. Be selective and your vintage shopping becomes a treasure hunt.

How old is the serve-ware?
Sterling silver, brass, bronze, stainless steel, polished aluminum , tin and pewter serve-ware can last many generations.

But most silver-plate, depending upon usage, lasts only about twenty years—and re-plating cost has escalated.

How do you plan to use it?
If you plan to use metal serve-ware for serving food, be sure the surface is unblemished so it does not hold bacteria.

The interior of most metal vintage coffee and tea pots can be scrubbed with soap and hot water but be wary of old copper and brass because these metals can have a toxic reaction with some foods.

Old and darkened pewter probably has lead content which is toxic and leaches into food.  However, old metal hollow-ware used for flowers, plants, magazines and wine or beer coolers lends character to a room.       

Can you verify the metal or metal alloys used to make the serve-ware?
The underside of all silver serve-ware should be marked with the name of the metal or alloy as sterling or .925, or the words silver plate but many contemporary brass, bronze, copper, pewter,tin and aluminum products are not marked—at all!

This creates the necessity of determining if some of the brass, bronze or copper wares are plated. If any part of the finish is paler in color— the wares are probably plated–and the plating is wearing away. Pass.

Origin of where the serve-ware was made?
During the past century, most developed nations have successfully produced quality artisan and mass-produced decorative and functional hollow-ware made of the metals and alloys discussed. However, a label of the country of origin might still be readable.

Check all edges:
Be sure edges are not dented and the gauge of metal is sufficiently heavy whether the edge is plain, rolled or has an applied border. Edges maintain the integrity of the shape of hollow-ware.

If hollow metal shapes have applied ornamentation, they must be articulate. Cast metal borders run the gamut from cheap alloys with poor articulation to excellent alloys with crisp articulation.

Differentiate details by comparing similar products of the same metal: e.g. examine all pewter 18” trays at high, medium and low prices.

Don’t believe everything a seller tells you about serve-ware.
Experience has convinced me:
sellers of used wares ‘make-up stories’ about products.

Selecting products of quality is a conscious act.
Enjoying their integrity and beauty is a sublime pleasure.

 

Pat Breen: EYEWITNESS TO QUALITY

 

    

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:

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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:
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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


CONTEMPORARY SERVE-WARE METALS © 

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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.silver wire for blogsheet steel for blog

SILVER:

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:

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:

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.

BRASS:

scan0135Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc.  Harder than copper, brass usage began in the 16th Century.  Many decorative and functional home products are made of brass.

STEEL:

Steel is 85% iron alloyed with other elements. High carbon steel is 12% carbon—making it similar to— but harder than cast iron.

STAINLESS STEEL:

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.

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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.

TIN:

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:

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:

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

MY NEXT POST:   SHAPING METAL SERVEWARE

FUNCTIONAL SERVE-WARE IN OUR LIVES ©       

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Did your family have special serving dishes saved for holiday and company dinners? Do you still use them? I still use some of my mother’s favorite serve-ware;  but only what doesn’t require a lot of maintenance.

I haven’t used her silver well and tree platter in years!   Traditional serving wares were classic, utilitarian shapes sold in silver departments of retail stores.

Even before the price of silver escalated, 20th Century consumers
wanted metal serve-ware requiring less maintenance. 
This brought
new vitality to the design and production of both traditional and
contemporary wares made in a variety of alloys including: sterling
silver, silver plate, brass, copper, pewter, stainless steel, tin and
polished aluminum. All shapes and styles can be made in every metal.

These photographs are to illustrate their function—not their style.

Coffee and tea ware:
pewter coffee pot

Ceremonial aspects are heightened
when pouring from a burnished metal pot.

This coffee and tea pot are made of pewter which —like all metal—gets very hot. The wood handles perform as a heat breaker.

Coffee and tea pots can be similar in shape to each other— or very different.  To prevent heat from damaging table tops, some pots are footed and some have rounded pedestal bases.

Western tea pot shapes were derived from classic Oriental tea pots which had round bowls —the better to allow brewed tea leaves to settle in the bottom—and highly placed spouts—the better to keep tea leaves from being poured into the teacup.

When explorers brought coffee to Europe from South America, spouts were added to ale tankards to use as coffee pots—and many of today’s coffee pots remain similarly shaped.  Cream pitchers and sugar bowls usually repeat the shape of either the coffee or tea pot.

Optional coffee and tea service pieces:
Hot water kettles with spigots are meant to add hot water to coffee or tea.
Waste bowls hold the dregs from one’s tea cup before refilling.

Trays/Waiters:

pewter tray
Trays serve hors d’ouvres, cookies, sandwiches, beverages and tea ware.
This hand-hammered pewter tray features hand-crafted handles.

 Bowls:

pewter centepiece bowl with grapefruit
All shapes of bowls—serve bon-bons, flowers, breads or fruit.

This bowl is hand hammered pewter.

Vegetable dishes:

stainless seel veg dish

Because metal retains heat, metal serving dishes are excellent for serving hot vegetables. Covers of  vegetable dishes can usually be inverted to perform as a second dish. This stainless steel vegetable dish has a highly polished rim.

Meat platters:

stainless steel meat platter
Flat platters, also called trenchers, are for serving hot or cold meats.

This platter is stainless steel.

silver well and tree

Well & tree platters are for hot meats.
The ‘tree’ allows meat juices to flow into the well from which they’re ladled.
This hand-hammered platter is silver plated nickel-silver.

Buffet Service:

buffet dishes

There is an endless variety of serve-ware buffet dishes.
These silver holders have oven-to-table porcelain cookware liners.

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Supper platters have separate compartments for meat and vegetables.
Rechaud dishes have cookware liners sitting above a water-base kept hot by alcohol burners.

Sauce dishes:

sauce dish

   This easy to maintain sauce boat is stainless steel.

Silver sauce dishes must be washed immediately to avoid pitting from salty sauces, gravies and mayonnaise.

Candle holders:

candlesticks

Metal candle holders must be stable.

As shown, many are weighted  for stability.

blog candlestick
This candlestick was handled vigorously and the metal twisted.

Candlesticks range in height from very low to very tall.  Some manufacturers thread the inside of metal candle cups so candle-holding-arms can be added to create candelabra.

blog candelabra

Threaded components add versatility of height and candle capacity.

Ice/ Champagne Buckets:

Metal also retains cold —-
making it excellent as a container for ice, wine and champagne.

Pitchers:

large pitcher
This silver-plated pitcher is hand-hammered.
Pitchers  serve endlessly for beverages and flowers.

Goblets and glasses:

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Silver drink ware has been used for centuries.
These silver-plated glasses feature hand-crafted repoussé designs.
If anyone claims they “taste silver”, they’re actually tasting tarnish.
Untarnished silver has no taste. 

Pat Breen: EYEWITNESS TO QUALITY

MY NEXT POST:  CONTEMPORARY SERVE-WARE METALS 

THE STORY OF METAL SERVE-WARE©

serve-ware header

Read how metal serving products originated and continue to be artisan and mass-produced; from raw materials to finished products. I share standards of quality for diverse products entrusted to me by technical experts at renowned international factories.  Yes, you can JUDGE FOR YOURSELF. INFORMATION IS POWER.

Brand  names change, styles  change, prices change.
IDEALS OF EXCELLENCE FOR EVERYDAY PRODUCTS DO NOT  CHANGE

 EVERYDAY HOME PRODUCTS explains my mission.  ABOUT is about me.

Throughout the 20th Century, sterling silver and silver-plated metal coffee and tea sets, meat platters, trays, vegetable dishes, pitchers and bowls of all sizes were sold in the SILVERWARE departments of large stores.

These hollow metal wares were made long before the adage, form follows function.  Their decorative designs mirrored art, changing social patterns and customs and their elegance and permanence established them as desirable wedding gifts. Couples not only registered for glassware, dinnerware and flatware, they registered for silver hollow-ware.

In the late 20th Century, the price of a troy ounce of silver began to escalate and contemporary lifestyle became increasingly casual: retail sales of silver hollow-ware declined.  Retail stores added more affordable serving products made of stainless steel, pewter, copper, brass, bronze, tin and polished aluminum alloys which were casual and required little or no maintenance. SILVER HOLLOW WARE  transitioned into SERVE-WARE .

This series of posts is only about METAL SERVE-WARE.  Standards of quality are from on-site interviews with management, designers and technical experts at international factories renowned for decorative and functional metal home products. The excellence of their products is established by the excellence of the quality of the raw materials and production methods from which they’re made.

Early man’s ability to shape metals for ceremonial purposes
proved reverence for metals as well as documentation of our
world before written history.

The Old Testament refers to the refiner’s fire—and Solomon’s
drinking vessels of gold, and silver, —as a token of payment in
Babylon in 4500 B.C.

Regrettably, many precious metal artifacts were melted for money in times of war and depression. And Paul Revere?  Our patriot silversmith had to recycle silver objects and silver currency to produce new silverware because British embargoes forbade importing silver bullion.

At FIT, during a product knowledge class about metal home products, my students and I watched a documentary of a contemporary master-silversmith reenacting skills of a Colonial silversmith performing every artisan task to make a sterling coffee pot including casting an ingot from melted scrap, hammering it into sheet stock and slowly raising the metal by hammering.

The process of hand-crafting a coffee pot complete with handle and spout engendered such dramatic suspense, the class audibly cheered his success!

Casting, extruding, soldering, pickling, annealing, cutting, chasing, planishing and polishing for any metal—are skills of a metal smith—and are only some of the artisan techniques developed to showcase masterful craftsmanship.

In 1842, electro-plating democratized the production and availability of affordable, good quality silver-plated serving wares—but for many, the opportunity to own sterling or silver-plate home products was diminished by wars, depressions and recessions.

Post World War II recovery brought prosperity and a population explosion of baby boomers and silverware departments overflowed with lustrous wares— in anticipation of —and celebration of —a gracious lifestyle.

My British commissionaire took me to the London Silver Vaults*
 — for me, an equation of  discovering Tutankhamen’s treasures! 

Established in 1882, the vaults performed as giant safe deposits for
moneyed classes when they were away from London.  Damaged in
the blitz, they were rebuilt at Chancery Lane as a labyrinthine retail
space for antique silver and jewelry .

Muffineers, sweetmeat baskets, epergnes, chocolate pots, tureens,
picture frames and flatware surpassed anything I had ever seen in
a manufacturer’s showroom! Surely, a trove?

Masterpieces of artistry and craftsmanship (some less so) reflected
the formal dining fashions of Georgian and Victorian England.
Hallmarks and assay markings provided assurance of authenticity
and history of each piece. 

*The London Silver Vaults at Chancery Lane are currently
listed as ‘one of the things to do in London’.

Throughout the 1960’s, sales of silver-plate and sterling hollow-ware continued to surge — until the recession and economic stagnation of the 1970’s. Coupled with a casual lifestyle, aging baby-boomers had no desire for silver wares : they were costly and required a lot of maintenance.

By 1990, retail sales of sterling and silver-plated wares were sorely impacted by erratic raw material costs. A troy ounce of silver averaged $4.95 in 1990, $20.19 in 2010, $35.12 in 2011,   $31.15 in 2012, $23.79 in 2013, $19.08 in 2014, and $14.56 in 2016.  Price volatility is attributed to global demand for pure silver for high-tech industrial applications and global economic concerns.

Good quality cannot be assumed. We’re easily duped: even inferior metal wares look good when new and most of us can’t identify differences in their quality—although most of us think we can.

The breadth and complexity of materials and production methods currently used for serve-ware is extensive; not all have merit. What we need to know is rarely on labels nor required by law to be there.  Untrained salespersons dispense a lot of inaccurate information; most brand advertising is blatantly brand-biased. Does any manufacturer admit their products are less-than-good?

Globally, sales of silver serve-ware have declined because of price and our casual lifestyle but THE STORY of SERVE-WARE has a happy ending because of the diverse and beautiful 21st Century metal serve-ware products currently made that require little or no maintenance! 

Pat Breen: EYEWITNESS TO QUALITY

My next post: FUNCTIONAL SERVE-WARE IN OUR LIVES ©