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White Star Line silver plate, a brief buying guide. Advice for collectors old & new.

by Jonathan Quayle |

Here at Pursers Locker we have been saddened to see the recent large influx of reproduction silver-plate wares appearing on the open market on auctions sites, we hope that this rough guide will help you navigate the waters of what is right and correct in the world of collecting quality White Star Line & ocean liner silver plate.

A selection of 100% correct and present silver plate, produced for the illustrious White Star Line by Messer's Elkington Plate and Goldsmiths & Silversmiths. C-1911/22.

White Star Line's reputation was always based on the quality of its service to its passengers, with this in mind it makes perfect sense that when choosing the silver service for its liners they would only buy the best. The silver services chosen not only had to do the service that would be expected of them at any top flight hotel on land, but all that and more with a life, a hard life, at sea.

White Star Line silver plate, and silver plate for any of the major shipping companies was always first rate, it had to be. We can now sail across the Atlantic with little incident and safely, barely realising we are even at sea, at the turn of the century it was a different matter, a transatlantic crossing was literally the only way to cross, and without modern technology it could often be a bumpy ride. As a result companies such as Elkington were employed to create not only beautiful silver plated creations for use within the ships dining saloons in a hotel type setting, but they had to cope with the riggers of the possibilities of being thrown around in an Atlantic storm, as well as the early machine dish washers of that era. To cope with this ocean liner silver plate is always of a very thick and heavy gauge. As a direct result of this, silver plate survives in large numbers due to its amazing quality and construction to this day.

Any true piece of silver plate produced for White Star Line will be silver plated brass. Elkington also supplied nickel plate for 3rd Class, but again this would be on a solid brass body. Unless the article is on a brass body, it is likely to not be correct. All the shipping companies only used brass based silver or nickel plate. Recent pieces to enter the market are on thin gauge base metal (not brass) or on a soft material called 'Britannia metal'. This material was cheaply produced at the time in large quantities. For domestic use in Edwardian times it was perfectly serviceable, it had the look but not the quality, for use within a ship it would literally not have lasted five minutes. The material is so soft that once dropped it will easily dent and misshape. This metal will have a tendency to go very black, like a dark pewter in colour. If you see a piece with any of these traits, our advise is to steer clear.

White Star Line were a very loyal company, they returned time and again to the same trusted suppliers, Elkington, Goldsmiths & Silversmiths, Walker & Hall, Mappin Bros/Mappin & Webb, Minton, and Losol etc are some examples of this. However White Star Line saw Elkington Plate as a particularly trusted supplier. Elkington had a long and distinguished history, pioneers in the silver plate revolution, chosen personally by Prince Albert, their reputation was second to none. 

White Star Line (1845/1934) over the companies lifetime used several providers for silver plate. The following list are the main companies used, by no means an exhausted list, but largely limited to those mentioned:-

The principal firms chosen to supply the White Star Line.

1. Elkington & Co silver plate. (Established 1830's until 1963, thereafter incorporated into British Silver Co)

The main principal supplier to the company, from its inception until its demise in 1934, also supplying the company's principal rival, the Cunard Steamship Co ltd, and from 1934 onwards, Cunard White Star. The company made everything imaginable for the Line, ever piece of flatware, hollowware, duck press's, table burners, champagne buckets etc, the list is endless.

2. Mappin Brother, later Mappin & Webb. (Established around 1775 becoming Mappin & Webb in the 1860's, later incorporated like Elkington into British Silver Co in 1963, although the jewellery brand and fine silver department still operates under its original title).

It appears this company did supply vast quantities of silver plate to White Star Line over the years, however it appears Elkington had the lions share, and supplying the majority of First Class wares. Mappin produced a great deal of 2nd & 3rd Class silver plate and plated wares, many plain hollowware and simple cutlery.

3. Walker & Hall. (Established 1845, again incorporated into British Silver Co in 1963).

Much like Mappin, it appears Elkington got the bulk of orders, Walker & Hall were responsible for large quantities of simple plated wares, coffee pots, sugar bowls, and lots of simple 2nd & 3rd class cutlery.

4. Goldsmiths & Silversmiths. (Established 1880, incorporated to Garrard & Co Ltd in 1953).

Responsible for the majority of the special silver service chosen for the "Olympic" class liners, for their own A'la carte restaurants. All the silver produced for the line was in the companies 'Regent Plate'. Plain hollowware was produced for use within the ships 1st Class, plain tureens and plate covers are often found, but the bulk is in the famous art nouveau styled service. 

ALL of the above companies produced silver plated wares for White Star Line. 

As Elkington & Co were the principal suppliers to the White Star Line, the following list gives a rough date guide to help identify and date your silverware.

Elkington & Co, date guide, 1841-1945.

To help decipher the marks we find on the bottom on a piece of White Star Line silver plate, take a look at this example found on the base of an "Olympic" & "Titanic" era fruit bowl.

1. Starting at the top we have a single capital 'A'. This signifies that this article is 'A' class silver plate, effectively listing the plate as the best quality the firm produced. It was common practice for all firms to use this term to signify that the piece was of the best quality.

2. Below the 'A' with have a shape or model number, this probably refers to the shape design, in this case a fruit or bread basket.

3. The six marks, all refer to the same thing, the maker of the piece, in this case Elkington & Co. This is a homage of sorts to the silver hallmarks of years past, when a silver service was just that, solid silver. The shield is the official badge of the company, the marks spelling out 'E' '&' 'C' are the effective contemporary hallmarks for the company, the companies initials. The final two marks incase you were still left wondering who made this piece, the full name, "ELKINGTON PLATE".

4. Under the company name is a registration number, this refers directly to the design, being registered so it could not be copied. This number would refer directly to that design and when that design was registered, effectively another way to date the item. This piece has a date letter for 'Z' for 1911, however its not unusual that the registration number pre dates this.

5. The company name 'WHITE STAR LINE' in capitals, this is always deeply stamped, not engraved. These marks were stamped in unison at the same time, all should match.

6. And finally a date letter, usually found on the bottom of a piece, usually well away from the makers and other marks. In this case within a square with rounded sides. White Star used at least four differing shapes for the date letter (during WSL's time), so it is important to make sure you have correctly identified the correct shape that surrounds your letter. The above list details those numbers and shape.

As a brief guide:-

Diamond shape dates from c-1841 - 1864.

Square with corners cut off c-1865 - 1885.

Square with rounded sides c-1886 - 1911. (As shown above for c-1911).

A cross with rounded edges c-1912 - 1936. (As shown above for c-1915).

White Star Line, flag markings:-

This flag and star shows the Maltese cross often found on White Star Line silver plate. It is not found on any other shipping lines, it appears to have been particular to White Star alone. Its only found on silver plate, never on crystal or china. In this case its hand engraved, usually when side marked. Often this mark is found on the base or underside, in this case it is located near the company name of 'WHITE STAR LINE', and when found here is always stamped, not engraved.

It should be noted that a full engraved flag & star shown, will only be found on the side of a piece of official White Star Line silver plate. It would be highly unusual to find an engraved flag & star on the base of an article. Bottom marks on the whole are made by deep stamps of the White Star Line house flag. They will never have a frosted or 'acid etched' appearance. Any flag & star found on the underside is always in proportion, not oversized. If a piece has a large or oversized flag & star on the base, we suggest you steer clear. 

Two views of the same flag and star marking, from a c-1922 hot chocolate pot. This is fully hand engraved. Its lightly done, not deeply done as some reproductions display. There are no rough edges, and to the touch they should feel smooth, these were engraved by craftsman in the Elkington works, then polished by hand to smooth off any imperfections. Also shown here is a moulded star, these were common to the chocolate pots but could also be found on ice picks and inkwells produced for WSL by Elkington.

The beautifully raised and three dimensional flag and star found on the famous bread/fruit baskets. This was a limited way of marking pieces of silverware for the Line and only seen on two shapes so far seen.

A later mark for the company, found on Elkington plate items from the 1920's through to the 1934, the last year of the company as a separate entity. This may appear to be hand engraved but is actually deeply stamped, designed to appear hand engraved but at a faction of the cost. Found on all manner or articles, but often seen on sugar casters and cocktail shakers.

A piece of used onboard silver plate will never have the ships name written, stamped or applied on it. This was simply never done by any of the shipping companies of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In rare cases silver plate may have been marked post use onboard a ship to signify it as a souvenir and relic of a famous ship. Examples have been seen of match holders from the Goldsmiths & Silversmiths service being crudely but deeply stamped 'Olympic'. These are genuine and done at the time (c-1935), and sold as souvenirs.

Goldsmiths & Silversmith marks.

Marks found on Goldsmiths & Silversmiths service, they did not have a date letter system. The marks used seem unchanged from c-1911 until the late 1920's. The marks to look for should appears like these as displayed on the base on a c-1911 hot chocolate pot:-

The Rd Number is the registration number for the design, service and shape. This service is marked/stamped in various way. Sometimes with a singularly flag & star on the base, sometimes side marked with the same, and sometimes marked with the flag on both side and bottom. This service for Goldsmiths is generally always stamped and not engraved, the exception to this are examples manufactured by other makers who produced this service under license from G&S.




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