The History of Silverplate

By Maureen Katemopoulos
The History of Silverplate
Maureen Katemopoulos

Before the invention of electroplating, sterling silverware was a status symbol in England and the United States, and the preserve of the wealthy. The advent of silverplate brought ownership of silverware within the reach of the mass market. Silverplate had the appearance of sterling without the high price tag. Birmingham, England and Connecticut in the United States were the starting points for the electroplating industry.

Electroplating Invented

In Birmingham, a doctor named John Wright is credited with the discovery of an electroplating process in the mid-19th century that used potassium cyanide as an electrolyte for gold and silver. Wright sold his patent to George and Henry Elkington, cousins who went on to introduce the process throughout Europe. However, an Italian inventor named Luigi V. Brugnatelli is thought to have been the original inventor of the electroplating process in 1805, using a solution of dissolved gold.

Mead

During 1840, an American from Connecticut, a silver manufacturer named John O. Mead was in Birmingham, where he learned about the new electroplating process. Returning to the United States, Mead set up an electroplating factory in Philadelphia. In subsequent years, Mead worked in several silverplating partnerships, including J.O. Mead & Sons, and Rogers & Mead.

Rogers

The partnership of Rogers & Mead was short-lived (1845-1846), but it brought together two of the leading lights of the silverplating industry, John O. Mead and William Hazen Rogers. Rogers is recognized as one of the earliest manufacturers of silverplated items in the United States. He and two of his brothers, Asa and Simeon, were partners in Rogers Brothers for the purpose of silverplate manufacturing between 1847 and 1853, when their trademark was first stamped on their silverplated spoons. It is thought that Asa Rogers may actually have been the first to experiment with and perfect the electroplating process, although the credit went to his brother.

Gorham

Gorham is also a major name in the history of American silverplate. The founder of Gorham, John Gorham, was born in England in 1621, and immigrated to America in 1640. His descendant, a New Englander named Jabez Gorham, steered Gorham Manufacturing Company when the company began producing electroplated holloware around 1865. During the 19th century, Gorham silverplate often bore the maker's mark of an anchor and shield. Gorham silverplate dates from around the 1860s through 1959.

Rogers Smith

In 1857, William Rogers and George Smith founded Rogers Smith & Co., in Connecticut, apparently with the specific goal to manufacture a wide range of silverplated products, including tea sets, ice water pitchers and spoons. The Meriden Britannia Company subsequently acquired Rogers Smith & Co., and both came under the umbrella of the International Silver Company, which was incorporated in 1898.

International Silver

The International Silver Company was an amalgamation of individual silverware manufacturers who continued to use their own trademarks. Besides Rogers Smith & Co., these silverplate specialists included Forbes Silver Co., Manhattan Silver Plate Co., Simpson, Hall, Miller & Co., and William Rogers Mfg. Co.

About the Author

Based in Northern California, Maureen Katemopoulos has been a freelance writer for more than 25 years. Her articles on travel, the arts, cuisine and history have appeared in publications such as "Stanislaus Magazine," "Orientations," "The Asia Magazine" and "The Peninsula Group Magazine." She holds a Baccalaureate degree in journalism from Stanford University.