Glossary of silver terms

plant with prickly leaves; a popular motif on Classical revival silver in the late 18th century.
mixing a base metal (such as copper) with a precious metal (such as silver) to improve its working properties.
the Birmingham mark on sterling silver. An assay office was established in the city in 1773.
a stylised honeysuckle flower motif.
Apostle Spoon:
spoons terminating in figures representative of Christ and the twelve apostles. Popular as Christening presents. Earliest examples date to the 15th century.
form of Orientalist decoration using symmetrically scrolling foliage.
container for gravy or sauce incorporating a heat source such as a hot water reservoir. Original design attributed to the 18th century Duke of Argyll.
Armorial Bearings:
(also Arms, Coat of Arms) consists of a shield and its external ornaments.
the testing of wrought silver to establish its purity or standard before hallmarking. Over the centuries many provincial towns in the UK have operated assay offices but only four remain active today: London, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Sheffield.
Hester Bateman (1709-94) was matriarch of a successful family firm of 18th century London silversmiths.
Black Jack:
a form of leather jug or tankard, associated with the 17th century, occasionally mounted with a silver rim.
Bleeding Bowl:
a small shallow, single handled bowl supposedly used whilst bleeding a patient. Generally 17th or 18th century.
the term for a bulbous, outwardly curved form.
Bougie Box:
a cylindrical container holding a coiled wax taper for use as a light.
technique for engraving silver with a sharp, burnished tool leaving a highly polished cut. Used for feather-edge decoration.
a standard of silver defined by law as 958.3 parts pure silver in a 1000. The Britannia standard was introduced in 1697 in the UK to halt the widespread melting down of sterling standard silver coinage. The traditional sterling hallmark of a lion passant was replaced by the figure of Britannia. A relaxation of the law in 1720 saw the reinstatement of the sterling standard although many silversmiths, such as Paul de Lamerie, continued to work in the softer Britannia standard as it was better suited to the elaborate and fashionable Rococo style.
an accidental indentation or dent to silver.
Caddy spoon:
a small spoon designed in the mid-17th century for measuring tea into a teapot.
a multi-light candlestick often loaded with pitch for stability. 18th – 19th century.
originally described a set of bespoke-made articles used for eating, drinking and personal hygiene whilst travelling; latterly, the general term for a service of flatware and cutlery.
a technique for producing a solid decorative motif or form in silver from a mould.
a bottle with a pieced cover for distributing spices, pepper or sugar on food.
a wine cup used during Mass or Communion.
Chamber stick:
a short, portable candlestick usually with drip tray and snuffer for extinguishing the light.
decorating a surface by filling engraved troughs with enamel before polishing.
multi-light ceiling ornament.
the raising and shaping silver by scoring and hammering to create decoration.
a collection of small domestic tools, such as scissors and keys, attached to a hook to wear, generally by a woman, on a belt.
a form of European decoration imitating techniques and motifs of the Orient; especially fashionable in the late 17th century and revived during the Regency.
a bowl and cover used for consecrating bread for the Holy Sacrament.
silver which reproduces forms and decoration of Greek and Roman antiquity. Especially fashionable in the late Georgian and Regency periods (1770-1830).
silver in everyday use need only be washed in soap and water before being thoroughly dried with a soft cloth (silver should never be left wet) and stored in baize or tissue. Salt corrodes silver so salt cellars should be fitted with glass liners or part gilded (gold does not react to salt). Various proprietary cleaners are available for cleaning tarnished silver but liquid cleaners are preferred to dry, abrasive solutions. Always use a soft cloth to dry and polish.
decoration using enamel poured into a design pre-determined by a wire outline.
a shallow sided circular dish, usually with wooden base, for holding a bottle of wine or decanter.
Coat of Arms:
the heraldic bearings of a family of rank, a corporation or an institution.
the Sheffield mark on sterling silver. An assay office was established in the city in 1773.
frame fitted to hold bottles and casters of oil, vinegar and spices for use whilst dining.
Cut-card work:
the application by solder of small decorative pieces of silver to flat silver to add ornamentation. Late 17th- early 18th century.
the specific term for knives with blades made by specialist cutlers. Until the introduction of stainless steel in the mid-19th century, most knives were mounted with carbon steel blades often bearing the distinctive cutler’s mark of a dagger.
one metal inlaid for decoration (by hammering into scored grooves) with another.
Dessert service:
matching cutlery and flatware specifically made for use whilst eating dessert. Often richly decorated and gilded to prevent fruit acid corroding the silver. 17th-19th centuries.
Egg and dart:
form of decoration, used for mouldings and borders, of alternating arrow shaped and oval motifs.
technique for depositing a layer of pure silver on base metal article by electrolysis (immersing article into electrically charged solution of pure silver). Developed and perfected by Elkington & Co., of Birmingham, in the mid-1800’s.
a form of decoration achieved by pushing silver from beneath creating a raised pattern of domes and curves.
decorating silver by scraping or cutting away material to create a design, especially of armorials and crests.
Entrée dish:
a covered dish for serving food, sometimes accompanied with heater and stand. 18th-19th century.
an elaborate table centrepiece usually mounted with a large basket or bowl surrounded by stands for various dishes. 18th - 19th century.
small decorative case fitted for essential items such as a pencil, scissors and needles; sometimes attached to a chatelaine. 18th century.
finely engraved decoration resembling a bird’s feather; especially popular on flatware in late 18th century.
delicate silver and gold wirework used as decorative panels for small boxes etc. 16th-17th century (European); 19th century (Indian).
an ornament surmounting an object or the terminal of a spoon.
the term for spoons and forks which are raised from a single, flat piece of silver.
channel shaped decoration used on borders etc.
a repetitive geometric ornamentation engraved on a border etc.
Frosted silver:
a decorative technique, involving heat and submersion in sulphuric acid, to create a contrasting layer of pure silver on the surface of sterling silver; especially popular in early 19th century.
decorative moulding of repetitive curving convex flutes, used on borders etc.
silver associated with the reigns of Kings George I (1714-1727), George II (1727-1760) and George III (1760-1820). Also broadly refers to the eighteenth century and to its style.
a small piece of armour worn at the neck which evolved by the 17th century into a badge of rank for a military officer.
the striking of marks on silver at a legally recognised assay office to describe standard of purity, name of maker, and date and place of assay.
a group of distinctive marks applied to wrought silver to describe standard, maker, date and origin. Hallmarks vary according to country and place of assay.
Hanoverian pattern:
flatware which has stems with turned up ends; style associated with reigns of Hanoverian monarchs in 18th century.
articles wrought from sheets of silver by hammering, spinning or stamping generally for domestic or culinary use eg. teapots.
Couped at the ends. Usually refers to saltires and crosses. When on a shield the ends follow the contours of the shield.
a deep bowl or pot, often with handles, intended for the display of flowers. Popular in silver in late 18th century.
a bulbous ornament on a stem (for instance, of a goblet); can also refer to the terminal of a spoon.
Leopard’s Head:
the London mark on sterling silver.
Lion Passant:
the mark applied in the UK to silver of sterling standard.
a wooden drinking bowl, often with silver mounts and rims. 14th-16th century; revived by artist silversmiths in early 20th century.
a silver or gold mounted glass vessel for displaying the Host (consecrated bread) at Holy Mass.
a large bowl on foot with (removable) scalloped rim for serving drink. Rim was used to support glasses. 17th-18th century.
(Arabesque) elaborate foliate engraving for ornamenting silver in the eastern style.
form of decorative moulding combining a convex and concave curve having a cross section in the form of an “S”.
Old English pattern:
description of a simple form of flatware of plain design with stems which turn down at the ends. Spoon bowls sometimes terminate in a point. Popular in late 18th- 19th century.
Pap boat:
plain, elongated shallow bowl with lip for feeding a child (pap is a mixture of flour, sugar and milk).
silver partly gilded for decorative effect.
Paul de Lamerie:
(1688-1751) leading 18th century London silversmith of Huguenot origin famed for his work in the elaborate Rococo style often in Britannia standard. Examples of his work are highly sought after by collectors.
traditional term of articles wrought in silver and gold (from Spanish plata). Following the development of Sheffield Plate in the early 18th century, the term was misappropriated to describe any form of silver plating on base metal.
Plique à jour:
technique of enamelling using wires within the enamel to create translucent effect similar to stained glass.
a small, two handled bowl or cup sometimes with a cover and on a low foot. Mid 17th- early 18th century.
Provincial silver:
any silver hallmarked outside the principal assay offices.
a shallow, pronounced two-handled dish on low foot. Of Scottish origin, 17th-18th century.
silver associated with the regency (1811-1820) of George, Prince of Wales (later King George IV); also term for the prevalent style of the period.
working embossed decoration from the front to add detail.
exuberant naturalistic style of decoration fashionable in the early 18th century. Associated with the work of Paul de Lamerie.
flat dish with plain or decorated border on foot or feet, originally for presentation of food. Usually circular but can be octagonal, trefoil shaped etc. Salvers with a smaller diameter than 9" (23cm) are generally called Waiters. 17th-19th century.
candlestick for wall mounting with reflecting back plate for magnifying light. 17th-18th century.
term for articles of same pattern, date and maker; especially of flatware. Incomplete services are described as “part” or “matched”.
a type of dyed granular leather used to cover boxes for the presentation of small silver items, jewels etc. Different skins have been used from horse and camel to shark (popular from mid 18th century). Fish skins are generally green in colour.
Sheffield Plate:
the technique for plating copper with sterling silver developed in Sheffield in circa 1740. Method relies on fusing sheets of copper and sterling silver together by binding and heating them before manufacturing the article. In the 19th century, Sheffield plate was superseded by mass-production electroplating.
application of a layer of gold to silver for decorative effect or as protection against corrosion, either in whole or in part (see parcel-gilt).
Snuff box:
small box for keeping snuff (tobacco which has been powdered for inhaling). From mid 17th-19th century.
Snuff Mull:
cylindrical form of snuff box, generally of Scottish origin. Also describes silver mounted snuff boxes made from a hollowed ram or cow’s horn. 18th century.
Snuffer scissors:
scissors designed to trim candle wicks, often accompanied by snuffer trays. 17th-19th century.
the tap of a tea urn or similar.
the legally recognised purity of wrought silver after alloy with other metals. Only two standards are currently recognised in the UK: Sterling standard (925 parts pure silver in a 1000) and Britannia standard (958.3 parts in a 1000). Elsewhere, standards vary throughout the world. Some countries recognise higher standards, others lower such as 800 parts per 1000.
a standard of silver defined by law as 925 parts pure silver in a 1000. Sterling silver is the principal standard in the UK and USA (where articles are usually marked “Sterling”)
Stirrup cup:
footless beaker for use on horseback, associated with hunting hence many naturalistically designed as fox masks. 18th- 19th century.
a lidded drinking vessel. 15th-18th century.
Taper stick:
small single candlestick used to melt wax for sealing letters or light tobacco.
Tea Caddy:
canister for preserving and securing loose tea. 17th-19th century.
Tumbler cup:
plain, cylindrical drinking vessel with ovoid base. 17th-18th century.
French term for silver gilt.
a portable hinged box designed to hold, beneath a pierced grill, a small sponge soaked in aromatic scent as an antidote to everyday odours. 17th – 19th century.
a mask
flat dish similar to salver but sometimes without foot or feet and smaller than 9" (23cm) in diameter.