Dear Helaine and Joe:
Can you tell me anything about my teapot? I understand it is not silver but electroplated. I think it is quite beautiful and am wondering how old it might be and what it might be worth.
E. H., Georgetown, Texas
Dear E. H.:
The way E. H. reads the marks on the bottom of the piece is included in the letter, but we decided to pass over that interpretation and discuss what all the initials actually mean and who made this very attractive teapot.
Luckily, a very clear photograph has helped make this determination a little simpler. At the top of the mark is the image of a trumpet. This led us directly to the maker, who was J. Dixon and Sons of Sheffield, England. Their initials are also found directly underneath the horn.
This firm was established in 1806 by James Dixon, who was a silversmith, but instead of making solid sterling silver items, his company specialized in making Sheffield plate and Britannia metal.
In the 18th century, the price of solid sterling silver pieces was just too high for most homes to have items made from the costly substance among their household equipment.
The invention of Sheffield plate in the mid-18th century offered a way to make items that appeared to be solid silver but were not. These were affordable for the upper middle class.
The history of the product traces its origins back to 1742 and a garret in the city of Sheffield.
There Thomas Boulsover was mending a knife blade when he happened to heat bits of silver and copper until they fused together and could not be separated.
Boulsover realized a thin sheet of sterling silver fused to a much more substantial sheet of copper would make a metal that could be shaped into items that would mimic solid silver and be much less expensive.
Boulsover went on to manufacture objects such as buttons, boxes and buckles, but Boulsover was not a good business man and other men such as Josiah Hancock took the product to its full potential.
Unfortunately, E. H.’s pot was not made using the Sheffield process. But according to the initials on the bottom, which reads “EPBM,” it is electroplated Britannia metal. Britannia is a silver-white metal largely composed of tin with a smidgen of copper, antimony, zinc and/or bismuth thrown in as a hardening agent. Electroplated means that a very small amount of pure silver was deposited on the surface using electrolysis.
Electroplating silver was not done widely until the 1830s, but it is our opinion that this pot, which was once part of a much larger tea/coffee set, was made much later.
And our instincts (and experience) tell us that it is 20th century. Its classic Regency/Hepplewhite style was very popular during the Edwardian period in England and persisted for some time thereafter.
We feel the piece is probably first quarter of the 20th century, circa 1920. Unfortunately, the insurance value is rather modest and is somewhere between $100 and $150.
This article was originally posted on NJ Herald.