Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Researching an Early 19th Century 'Old Sheffield Plate' Wine Coaster

My Old Sheffield Plate Wine Coaster
appropriately paired with a
Georgian Era Glass Decanter.

Amongst my collection of antiques and collectables is a Georgian era 'Old Sheffield Plate' wine coaster which I have recently been researching. I was not left lacking in some detailed information from a number of sources as to the manufacturing process, the manufacturer, and confirmation of the period of manufacture, all of which proved most interesting. 

This item is not of the modern electro-plated variety but used a much earlier form of plating hence the prefix "Old" to differentiate it from the more modern mass-produced variety. [Old] 'Sheffield Plate', being a sheet of copper between two thin layers of sterling silver (known as a "double sandwich") was manufactured by fusing the three layers together with heat then hammering and rolling out in order to then create whatever object was desired. 

A view of the floral and gadrooned border.

This process had been accidentally discovered in 1743 and enabled silverware to then be manufactured in a more cost effective manner rather than using expensive solid sterling silver. Cheaper silver electro-plating generally took over after 1840 so the majority of Sheffield silver plate primarily dates from the Georgian era. 

So firstly, we need to identify this piece as 'Sheffield Plate' rather than electroplated copper. A tell-tale sign is always the seam where the two ends of the plate were fused together to form a perfect round. This is clearly visible.

Close up of the seam where the two edges have been fused together.

Looking closely at the edge of the decorated border with a magnifying loupe clearly shows where the cast decorative gadrooned (convex curves in a series) and floral border has been fused onto the Sheffield Plate rim with a very small but tidy amount of overlap with some copper visible. A small amount of copper is also showing through where areas of silver have been rubbed off with cleaning but this is by no means excessive nor does it really affect the value. Such minor wear is fairly typical for Sheffield Plate and usually confirms that the item has not been electro-plated at a later date which would actually detract from its value. Collectors of Old Sheffield Plate generally like to see a little copper exposed, being termed "bleeding".

Side view showing the moulded ridges on the side

A button set into the centre of the wooden base is engraved with an armorial crest in what can best be described as an almost complete but upturned crescent on a base. Just below this is the sole makers mark, being the letters 'RG' set into a slightly rectangular cartouche. The turned wooden base is of a light colour and may possibly be cedar. The base cannot be removed as the Sheffield Plate was hammered and moulded over it to secure it. The underside of the base is covered in the original green baize and is still intact. Overall I would judge the quality of the workmanship to be very fine.  

The underside showing the rim moulded over the
 wooden base as well as the original green baize.

And now we need to identify the manufacturer. Only four silverware manufacturers appear to have used the initials "RG" during the early 19th century, being :

R.G (Richard Garde [Dublin] ) - first half of 19th century.
RG (Robert Gainsford [London] ) - first half of 19th century
RG (Robert Gray [Edinburgh & Glasgow] - c.1776 to 1802
R.G (Robert Garrard [London] ) - 1802 to 1818

While I had been hopeful that my wine coaster may have been made by the renowned Robert Garrard (1802 - 1818) of London, having been known to have produced fine items in Sheffield Plate, his cartouche is identical to mine but would appear to always include a 'dot' between his initials which mine does not. Likewise, Richard Garde of Dublin, while also in the correct cartouche, includes a dot between his initials. The cartouche of Robert Gray, although basically the correct pattern and lettering, appears too early for my wine coaster.

A close-up of the Armorial Crest
and cartouche with initials "RG"

The cartouche used by Robert Gainsford of Sheffield, and by the above process of elimination, is however the most likely. He appears, according to expert research by professionals, to have used the initials 'RG' within a rectangular cartouche from around 1818 to 1822. Thereafter he used an oval cartouche. While even the experts attribute the mark "probably" to Robert Gainsford (as it does not appear in the Sheffield Assay Office Register) it appears plausible given that the other makers can be discounted. Unfortunately, markings on Old Sheffield Plate tend to be minimal at best, and are usually not helped by a paucity or total lack of historical records.

I note that another wine coaster with a less ornate border but attributed to Gainsford and dated 1820 was recently sold by a reputable English silverware dealer and this provides a very useful comparison, both as to manufacturer and date. The images on the dealer's site show the turned wooden base and style of the central boss, including the cartouche and initials, to be identical to mine.

A Wine Coaster identified as made by
Robert Gainsford, Sheffield, c.1820
[Source :]

An item such as this would be used to place a wine bottle or decanter on, not just as a decorative piece but also to protect the dining table, sideboard or serving table from marks and / or stains. While not of any great value, perhaps only UKP £75 to £85 retail, ascertaining and researching the provenance and history of any piece is all part of the fun of antique collecting. And this item, after around 195 years, still usefully fulfills the purpose for which it was originally designed.

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