Nickel silver

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A silvery white alloy composed of Copper (52-80%), Zinc (10-35%), and Nickel (5-35%). Originally produced in China, nickel silver was first manufactured in Germany in 1770; the process was later perfected in 1823. It was used as an inexpensive, non-tarnishing substitute for Silver. Nickel silver can take a high polish and became popular during the 19th century for tableware and plated articles. As an example, the process chart for the Reed & Barton Factory in 1880, shows that nickel silver was one of three alloys used for casting (Gibb 1943, p. 268). Because it provides a harder, stronger, and more durable base than copper, nickel silver is still used as a base for many silver-plated items (marked EPNS-electroplated nickel silver). It was also favored for use in ferrules of expensive artist brushes. Other favorable characteristics are that nickel silver is ductile and nonmagnetic. It can be wrought, cast, rolled, stamped, extruded, and machined. The addition of small amount of lead allows nickel silver to be soldered and welded. Beginning in the 1920s nickel-silver became popular for interior and exterior architectural motifs such as decorative panels, stair railings, elevator doors, plumbing fixtures, hardware, and decorative strips in terrazzo floor designs. By the 1950s, it was rarely used as an architectural element.

Synonyms and Related Terms

German silver; Neusilber (Deut.); Argentan (Deut.); maillechort (Fr.); albata; Paktong; Pakfong; Alpacca [Berndorf AG]; neusilver; white copper; Liberty silver; Nevada silver; Queen's metal; white metal; Wolfram brass; Argentine; Packtong; Silveroid; electrum; Best best; Virginia silver; Potosi silver

Physical and Chemical Properties

  • Resistant to atmospheric corrosion and acids.
  • Outdoor samples develop a thin brownish green protective patina that is often confused with Monel.
  • Will tarnish in the presence of sulfur.

Resources and Citations

  • Adrienne Cowden, "Nickel Silver", in Twentieth-Century Building Materials, T. Jester (ed.), McGraw-Hill: New York, 1995.
  • F.B. Howard-White, Nickel: An Historical Review New York: D. Van Nostrand Company, 1963.
  • R.Child,"The Identification of Post-Industrial Revolution Metals" in Modern Metals in Museums, Institute for Archaeology Publications, London, 1988.
  • Gibb, George Sweet. 1943. The Whitesmiths of Taunton; a History of Reed & Barton, 1824-1943. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Thomas Gregory, The Condensed Chemical Dictionary, Reinhold Publishing, New York, 3rd ed., 1942
  • G.S.Brady, Materials Handbook, McGraw-Hill Book Co., New York, 1971 Comment: p. 542
  • David C. Scott, Metallography and Microstructure of Ancient and Historic Metals, The Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles, 1991
  • Dictionary of Building Preservation, Ward Bucher, ed., John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York City, 1996
  • Zora Sweet Pinney, 'A Handle on the Terms used for Artists' Brushes', unpublished glossary, 1999
  • Tom Rowland, Noel Riley, A-Z Guide to Cleaning, Conserving and Repairing Antiques, Constable and Co., Ltd., London, 1981
  • Arian Sheets, Contribution information
  • Wikipedia: German silver: 45-70% copper, 5-30% nickel, 8-45% zinc; originated in China, produced by Suhl in Germany in 1770.