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Nickel and Chrome Plating – A Brief History

April 23, 2010

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written by Vicki Bale

Early Nickel Plating

NICKEL AND CHROME PLATING – A BRIEF HISTORY

The earliest plating was Sheffield plate, a combination of silver and copper that was used for many years to finish household items and buttons. It was discovered accidentally by Thomas Boulsover of Sheffield’s Cutlers Company in 1743, when he overheated an object he was repairing and the silver melted. The silver and copper fused strongly and behaved as one when he tried to shape them. In 1770 the “double sandwich” method of Sheffield plate was born and was used for items which had an internal surface such as bowls

Electroplating is a process which deposits a layer of material to the surface of an object. The first patents for electroplating were awarded in 1840 to George and Henry Elkington in Birmingham. This followed the discovery made by John Wright of Birmingham that potassium cyanide was a suitable electrolyte for gold and silver electroplating. Birmingham was where it all began and from here it spead throughout the world.

In the 1850’s commercial electroplating was developed . Electroplating baths and equipment developed by the Elkington’s was scaled up to accommodate the plating of larger objects for engineering and manufacturing applications.

In the late 19th Century electric generators improved the process considerably. Higher currents and improved components meant that plated objects could be produced in bulk.

The two World Wars and the growing aviation industry brought further developments to the process and equipment evolved from manually operated tanks to automated equipment capable of high output.

Don’t confuse Nickel Plate with Nickel Silver sometimes known as German silver which was a base metal used for electroplated wares (EPNS) such as cutlery and silverware zips, musical instruments and jewellery. This was an alloy which contained no silver, was named due to it’s silver colour, but is actually an alloy of 60% copper, 20%zinc and 20% nickel. It was ideal as the base to which much plating was done. It became readily available in sheet from from the 1860’s.

Lots of  decorative items were enhanced by plating, you can probably think of many. Jewellery, Cutlery, buttons, bathroom fittings, car and motor cycle parts and light casings, etc. Door Furniture was plated in nickel and later in chrome. The highly polished shiny finishes on door knockers, door knobs, letter plates and escutcheons made bold statements on front doors and required no polishing.We are not sure how widely plating was used for door furniture or window fittings during the second half of the 19th Century. If anyone has any knowledge on this please leave a comment, we would be interested. We know the Victorians favoured brass which they kept highly polished and we know that there are very few examples of early plated reclaimed knobs and knockers on the market today. This may be because it was not in wide use but also because perhaps the early nickel plate did not last on high use items. In summary then, we think that nickel plate on door knobs and knockers would date back to late 19th early 20th century and that chrome plate came a bit later approximately 1920 on. We hope this advice will help in selecting the right look for your period door.

Most of our door furniture and window hardware items can be plated in nickel or chrome. We plate to a solid brass base.

Please click on the photos below of our nickel door knobs, nickel door knocker and nickel letter plate to link to the item on our site.

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