" A Brief History of Nickel Silver."
Perhaps the most important contribution of William Hutton to the plate trade was the pioneering work he did in making spoons and forks, etc., from this new, white alloy.
Nickel silver, also called at one time as “German silver”, “Argentine” and “British plate”, had been also known for a long time in China, where it was called “ Packfong”.
In July 1822, in the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal, a chemist - Fyfe - published an analysis of the Chinese alloy (40.4% copper, 25.4% zinc, 31.6% nickel, and 2.6% iron). This publication really started the European interest in nickel silver, for the Prussian Society for the Encouragement of Industry in 1823 offered a Gold medal and prize for the creation of a factory in Prussia to manufacture the Fyfe alloy.
In 1824, Dr. Geitner at his cobalt blue factory at Schneeberg produced the alloy and offered it for sale. In 1825 a factory was also started in Vienna.
The history of the German nickel silver industry is given in a paper by Dr. B. Neumann, “The Beginnings of the Argenton Industry and the Technical Nickel production”
In F. Bradburys’ “History of Old Sheffield Plate” published in 1912, on page 137 it is reported that in the year 1830, a Mr. Guitike from Berlin came to Sheffield with samples of this new metal, so that evidently it was becoming widely known from various sources.
Percival Norton Johnson (Founder of Johnson, Matthey and Company, Ltd.) whose main business was that of an assayer, between 1829 and 1833 produced the alloy and in the London Directory for 1833 described himself as “Johnson and Company, British plate manufacturers, 79, Hatton Garden.
Other metallurgists also took up the manufacture in this country, including the founders of a firm which later became Henry Wiggin and Company. Information about these manufacturers can be found in the following books:- “Percival Norton Johnson - The Biography of a Pioneer Metallurgist” by Donald McDonald, published by Johnson, Matthey and Company, Ltd.,1951, and “History of Henry Wiggin and Company Ltd., 1835-1935 Centenary Publication”.
Old papers in the possession of the Hutton family show that William Hutton purchased this alloy from Johnson and Company and made it into forks - in fact Johnson had a contra account, some invoices of which showed that the Hutton supply to them of spoons and forks exceeded in value the Johnson supply of metal from which they were made!
In March 1831, William Carr Hutton, son of William Hutton, spent four weeks in London on a mission on behalf of a Committee of Birmingham platers to the Goldsmiths’ Company and the Stamp Office (Treasury) asking for modifications of the Hall-marking Bill before Parliament. After fifteen years of wrangling the Gold and Silverware act of 1844 was passed.