Nickel Silver: Characteristics, Uses And Problems
NICKEL SILVER: CHARACTERISTICS, USES AND PROBLEMS
Margot Gayle, David Look, John Waite. Metals in America's Historic Buildings. Washington,DC: National Park Service, 1995.
L. William Zahner. Architectural Metals. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1995.
This standard includes general information on the characteristics
and common uses of nickel silver and identifies typical problems
associated with this material along with common causes of its
deterioration. For guidance on cleaning nickel silver, see 05010-
Characteristics of nickel silver:
- A copper-nickel-zinc alloy that contains no silver.
- Contains 50-80 percent copper, 5-30 percent nickel and 10-35
percent zinc; it may also contain small percentages of lead,
tin and manganese.
- Higher amounts of copper make the nickel silver metal more
ductile and more resistant to corrosion.
- Higher amounts of nickel make nickel silver more white and silver-like.
- Higher amounts of zinc slightly improves corrosion resistance,
lowers the melting point, raises its strength and hardness,
but decreases its ductility.
- Has many of the same characteristics as brass and bronze.
- Has existed for over 2000 years.
- May be wrought, cast, rolled, stamped, forged, drawn, extruded
- Silvery-white in color.
- Takes a high polish.
- Extremely hard.
- Highly resistant to environmental corrosion.
- Suitable for soldering and welding, depending on the presence
- Develops a protective oxide, or patina when exposed to oxygen;
the patina is brownish-green when exposed for long periods of
- Called copper-nickel or false copper in the late 1600s due to
the reddish color of the ore, but lacking the ductility and
malleability of copper.
- Discovery that the silver ore contained nickel occurred in the
mid 1700s; established as a new elemental metal by Aksel
- A German version called new silver was marketed in the 1800s.
- Called German Silver in England up until World War I; called
nickel silver after that time.
Typical historical uses for nickel silver include:
- Nickel alloys commonly used for coins and ornamental objects.
- Tableware and plated objects.
- In the 1840s, nickel superseded copper as the material of
choice for silver plating; nickel was harder, stronger and
more durable than copper.
- Electroplating became the most fundamental application of
nickel silver in the early 1900s; some uses included costume
jewelry, keys, soda fountain and bar equipment, cigarette
cases, automobile radiators and hub caps.
- Used for more decorative and structural elements in the 1920s,
such as decorative panels, doors, grilles, railings, plumbing
fixtures, plaques, trim and divider strips in terrazzo floors.
- Popular for door knobs, handrails and pushplates because of
- Use of nickel silver declined in the 1950s.
- After World War II, stainless steel and aluminum replaced the
use of nickel silver due to their low production cost.
- Most buildings containing nickel silver were constructed in
the 1920s and 1930s.
Typical current uses for nickel silver include:
- Industrial and electrical purposes.
- Cast and wrought forms of the metal are occasionally found in
- Manufactured today only in silver white or white with a yellow
tint; shades of pale yellow, green, pink and blue can also be
produced by varying the nickel content; custom orders can also
be made to match an older nickel alloy finish if necessary.
NATURAL OR INHERENT PROBLEMS
- Corrosion: The zinc content of Nickel Silver makes the alloy
metal sensitive to acid and sulfur pollutants and will tarnish
in their presence.
- Stress Corrosion Cracking: Tensile strength combined with
exposure to a corrosive environment; factors affecting this
type of deterioration include temperature, metal composition
and metal structure.
- Sensitive to chromic and nitric acids, due to its high copper
content; copper is very sensitive to these acids.
VANDALISM OR HUMAN-INDUCED PROBLEMS
- Scratches and dents.
- Susceptible to mechanical deterioration such as fatigue, but
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