Abe Silverman's Antique Silver Shop
Silver Glossary, Terms & Definitions

We've compiled this comprehensive list of silver terms and definitions to assist you in deciphering the 'technical jargon' used by silversmiths and sellers of silver.

Acanthus and Acanthus Leaf / Leaves - A spiny, broad-leaf plant native to the Mediterranean region.

Alloy - A combination of two or more metals usually formulated to provide or increase desired properties, such as ductility, conductivity, durability, etc.

Alpaca or Alpaca Silver - German silver and nickel silver - both synonymous trade names of an alloy of copper, nickel and zinc.

Applied - Made separately, then added to the body of an object. 

Art Nouveau - A style also known as "Victorian" or "Edwardian" consisting of fluid lines, floral and nature themes and natural colors. Also known for its flowing style with sinuous curves and naturalistic motifs that was popular from about 1895 to 1905.

Assay -  Analysis of a metal to determine its purity.

Base Metal, Pot Metal or White Metal - Any combination of alloys of non-precious metals of comparatively low value to which a coating or plating of silver is usually applied.

Beaded - Decorated with a narrow band of adjacent bead-like balls.

Bobehe or Bobeche - Flat or saucer-like rings or cups placed around candle bases to stop and collect wax drippings.

Brass - An alloy of copper and zinc which has a nice yellow color.

Brazil / Brazilian Silver - The in late 19th and early 20th Centuries, nickel silver flatware items were sold under a variety of euphemism,s including Brazil(ian) Silver.  These all tend to be silvery-looking alloys.  They were advertised as being a superior alternative to silver plated wares because they never never lost or wore through the silver plating.  Brazilian Silver, though, is not silverplated.

Bright-Cut - A type of engraving produced by short, repetitive strokes of a cutting tool.

Bright Finish - Highly polished, mirror like finish produced by use of a jeweler's rouge on a polishing wheel.

Bronze - An alloy chiefly of copper and tin.

Britannia or Britannia Metal - A composition of tin, copper and antimony.

Butler's Finish - A satin finish produced by a revolving wheel of wire which makes many tiny scratches, giving the article a mellow surface luster, originally the result of years of hand rubbing by English butlers.  Patented by James H. Reilly of Brooklyn Silver Co.

Cann - A mug.  Ther term is more comon in the United States.

Cast or Casting - The method of duplicating an object by pouring metal into a hollow mold formed by the original object. Almost any jewelry object which can be made by hand can be reproduced by the lost wax or centrifugal casting process.

Cartouche - An area surrounded by ornamentation and reserved for engraving, usually an area left 'empty' or 'blank' in order to engrave a monogram.

Chafing Dish - One dish or vessel within another, the outer vessel being filled with hot water and in direct contact with a heat source, and the inner container to hold the food.

Chalice - A large standing cup for wine.  Used in religious ceremonies and by Wiccans.

Chamber Candlestick - A tray candlestick in the form of a circular dish stand with a handle.

Chase Work or Chasing - Decoration created by hammering the surfaces of an object with small punches.

Chocolate Pot - Similar to a coffee pot, but with a little lid in the cover through which a swizzle stick can be inserted for stirring the chocolate.  Also relates to a coffee pot with the spout located and design lower and thinner than a traditional teapot or coffee pot.

Coin Silver - An alloy of 90% fine silver and 10% copper.

Commercial Silver - Silver that is 999/1000 fine or higher.

Condiment - A small pot, often with a glass or ceramic liner.  For storage and useage of salt, pepper, mustard, etc.

Cruet - Originally, the vessels used for wine and water in the Christian ritual; later, the collective term for a set of salt, pepper, oil & vinegar dispensers in a silver or silverplated stand.  Almost always made of crystal or glass.

D.W.T. - Pennyweight is abbreviated as DWT, grams x .643=DWT, 20DWT = once once.

Danish Silver - Silverware made in Denmark is 830/1000 fine silver if made to minimum Danish standards. 925/1000 fine silver is made for export.

Deepsilver / Deep Silver - The terms Deepsilver or Deep Silver indicates that a thin bar of sterling silver was set into the wear points of a piece of silverplate flatware, where it would rest on a table, as a method of making the wear less visible.  The term and practice has confused people ever since.

Domed -  A spheroid cover first used in 1715 on tankards, teapots and coffee pots.  Used extensively on covered butter dishes.

Ductility - Capability of being drawn out or hammered thin. Gold is the most ductile of all metals.

E.P.C. and EPC - Electroplated silver on copper.

E.P.B.M and EPBM - Electroplated silver on Britannia metal.

E.P.N.S. and EPNS - Electroplated silver on nickel silver.

E.P.W.M. and EPWM - Electroplated silver on white metal.

Electroplate, Electroplated & Electroplating - In the silver industry, the use of electricity to deposit a thin layer of precious metal on the base metal of a holloware item.

Emboss, Embossed and Embossing - Making raised designs on the surface of metal from the reverse side, strictly applicable to hammered work.  See also Repousse.

Engrave, Engraved or Engraving - To decorate metal by gouging a design with graver's tools; embellishing metal or other material with patterns using a stamping tool or drill. This was a popular technique in mid-Victorian times.

Ewer - A jug or pitcher having a wide pout and a handle.

Filigree - Ornamental work in which fine wire, usually of gold or silver, is twisted and soldered into intricate patterns.

Final Finish - A hand polishing step which is precise and affords a smooth, satin finish or a bright mirror finish.  All fine polishing is stroked in the direction of the metal's grain.

Fine Silver - Better than 999/1000 pure.  It is too soft for practical fabrication and is mainly used in the form of anodes or sheets for plating.

Finial - The top-most portion of an object, often on the lid, and usually quite decorative.

Flat Chasing - Decoration on the flat surfaces created by small punches and a hammer.

Flatware - Eating utensils, commonly the spoon, fork and knife, together with serving pieces and other items.

Fluted - Decorated with parallel vertical groves.

Foot or Feet - The supporting member or base of an object.  Most footed items have 3-4 feet.

Gadroon or Gadrooning - Ornamentation consisting of narrow, parallel, vertical panels, usually tapering in width.  The panels may be convex, concave, or alternating convex and concave.

German Silver - Another name for nickel silver. A composition of 10% nickel, 50% copper and 49% zinc.  It was first made in Germany during the early 19th century in imitation of the much older Chinese alloy known as paktong.  German Silver contains NO silver.

Gild, Gilded, Gilding and Gilt -: The coating of a surface with a thin layer of gold. Electroplating is the modern form of gilding.

Gold Wash or Gold Washed - Describes products that have an extremely thin electroplating of gold (less than .175 microns thick). This will wear away more quickly than gold plate, gold-filled, or gold electroplate.  The gold is applied by either dipping or burnishing the metal, but it is not plated.

Greek Key - An angular line of ornamentation in the shape of alternating and interlocking "L"s.

Hallmark - An official mark stamped on gold and silver articles to attest to their purity.  Marks placed on English and European objects made of silver or gold.  Hallmarks were required by law, and indicate the maker, date and place of manufacture.  There is usually a fourth mark that certifies that the object meets a minimum standard of purity.

Hammered Finish - A hammered finish is done with small, flat-headed or pointed hammers, giving an uneven surface or a faceted surface to the silver.

Holloware, Hollow Ware and Hollowware - Hollow bodied vessels usually associated with food and drink serving items.

Limoges - Enamel painted on metal, covering the surface.

Maker's Mark - The distinguishing mark of the individual silversmith.

Monteith - A cooler for wine glasses resembling a punchbowl, but with a notched, often detachable rims to suspend the glasses over iced water.

Nickel Silver - A composition of 10% nickel, 50% copper and 40% zinc. It contains no silver. Also known as German Silver.

Non-Tarnish Silver - Produced by alloying silver with cadmium or by the application of a thin plating of thodium or palladium on the surface.

Old Sheffield Plate - Crafted by fusing silver to both sides of a base metal to create a silver 'sandwich'.  A widely used method from 1765 - 1840.

Ogee - A molding with an "S" shaped profile.

Oxidized or Oxidizing - Accented beauty of ornamentation by the application of an oxide which darkens metal wherever applied.  Shadows and highlights are created which give depth and character.

Paktong - An alloy containing approximately 50% copper, 40% zinc and 10% nickel.  Invented in China and brought to Europe during the 18th century.

Patina - As a general term, patina refers to the change in an object's surface resulting from natural aging.  It does NOT mean tarnish or dirt.  It's a soft luster caused by tiny scratches that come with daily use.

Pedestal - A circular, square or rectangular support between the body of an object and the base.  Usually flared and molded.

Pennyweight - abbreviated as DWT, grams x .643=DWT, 20DWT = once once.

Pewter - A somewhat dull silver-colored alloy of tin, antimony, and copper.  Pewter items are described and marked as such if they contain at least 90% tin.

Precious Metals - Gold, silver and the platinum group metals are known as the precious metals. They are also called the noble metals by some craftsmen.

Quadruple Silverplate, Quadruple Silver Plate and Quadruple Plate - Silver items of some of the highest quality made during the later part of the 19th century.  Within the silversmith and silver manufacturing industry, items marked "Standard" silver plate indicated that  2 troy ounces of pure silver were used to silver electroplate 144 teaspoons, but "Quadruple" silverplate used 8 troy ounces of silver to plate the same 144 spoons.

Repousse - Ornamentation with decorative elements that have been pushed up above the surface of an object.

Ribbed - An ornamentation with a series of parallel or radiating lines.

Satin Finish - A means of producing a matte or frosted finish on silver and other metals.  Also called a 'frosted' finish or butler's finish.

Scroll - An ornamental line resembling a loosely rolled piece of paper.  A line that curves in on itself.

Sheffield Plate - Originally made by bonding sheet silver to copper, rolling and manufacturing the bonded metals into hollowware. Imitations are made by electroplating silver on copper and are sometimes erroneously advertised as Sheffield plate.

Silver Gilt - Made of silver that has been completely covered with a very thin coating of gold.

Silver Plated Ware or Silverplate - Made by electroplating fine silver on a base metal alloy ‑usually nickel silver or Britannia metal, sometimes brass or copper.

Spur - A short, curved and pointed projection on a handle, used to aid in holding an object or keeping an object (a knob or finial) from damaging the handle.

Sterling Inlay / Sterling Inlaid - The terms Sterling Inlay and Sterling Inlaid were used by the Holmes and Edwards Company from late Victorian times until the brand was abandoned by International Silver in the 1960's.  The successor brand, Deepsilver, also was made this way.  Flatware would have a small block of sterling set into the piece at the wear points where the piece would rest on the table.  This was a method of making the wear less visible.  The term and practice has confused people ever since.

Sterling Silver - Must be 925/1000 (92.5%) fine silver and 75/1000 (7.5%) copper. This proportion is fixed by law.

Taxco Silver - The small town in Mexico where William Spratling, an American set up his workshop in 1929. Many other silversmiths eventually set up shop here making Taxco the center of silversmithing in Mexico. Much silver is made in Taxco to this day, but the earlier silver , up to about 1970 is considered collectible. In 1979 the government began to require silversmiths to stamp a registration mark consisting of two letters and several numbers, and this mark should be found on nearly on newer pieces.

Tazza - A wide shallow bowl on a centrally located foot.

Touchmark - The name, initials or symbol stamped on an object by its maker. 

Triple Silverplate - Items used three times as much purse silver as "Standard" and 1/4 less than "Quadruple" silverplate items.  Silverplate holloware items which have been re-silvered over the years may have more or less silver than originally plated.

Troy Ounce - From the troy system of weight used for measuring precious metals, based on a pound of 12 ounces and an ounce of 20 pennyweights or 480 grains. Precious metals are measured in troy ounces worldwide.

Victorian Plate - Plated silver items made during the period c. 1840-1900 by the process of electroplating silver to objects.

Victorian Silver - The designation given to the period from approximately 1837 when Victoria became Queen of England until 1901 when she died. This long period is divided into early (approx. 1840-1860), mid (approx. 1860 - 1880) and late (approx. 1880-1900) since it covers a wide span of time, and a number of distinctive design trends. This period was preceded by the Georgian period, and succeeded by the Edwardian period after Victoria died in 1901, and her son Edward became king.

White Metal and White Metal Alloy - an alloy, usually containing two or more of the following elements: tin, copper, antimony, lead and bismuth.  The resulting end color depends on whether the tin or the lead predominates.  The more tin the whiter the color.

Wrought - Hammered into shape on one or more anvils.
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