Ask Fendelman and Rosson
What's this covered dish from the 19th century worth?
Dear Helaine and Joe: I am wondering if you could provide some information about my antique dish plate. It is marked "Meriden B-Company" in a circle surrounding a scale. It is also marked "Patented February 9, 1869" and there is also the number "85." I believe it may be silver-plated. The dish has a small dent on the bottom and it looks like there is a small speck of silver on the top that has chipped off. I would like some details on the type of metal it is made from and if it has any significant value.
8 — M.A.The maker of this piece is the Meriden Britannia Company of Meriden, Conn., which was founded in 1852. Meriden began its business life by making objects from Britannia metal, which is a silvery-white metal that is very pewterlike in appearance.
Britannia is made primarily from tin that has been hardened with additions of copper and antimony, and sometimes a touch of zinc and bismuth. But a typical formula is 140 parts tin, 10 parts antimony and three parts copper. Lead is completely left out of the Britannia formula, and this enhances the silvery appearance.
Britannia is probably the base metal for M.A.'s covered vegetable dish, though Meriden also used white metal and nickel silver, but these metals are usually noted underneath the round mark described in the letter. There are at least two methods that were used to silver-plate base metal, but electroplating is the one used by Meriden.
Sheffield plating is the other commonly used method, and in this process, a thin sheet of sterling silver is fused to a thicker sheet of copper using heat.
The style of this covered vegetable dish is Victorian Renaissance Revival, which, in the late 1860s to early 1870s, when this piece was made, was beginning to be replaced by other styles. Renaissance Revival is based on neoclassical (ancient Greek and Roman) design filtered through the Italian Renaissance — thus the name.
To recap, this piece is probably largely Britannia metal covered with a very thin layer of electroplated silver. We cannot tell the exact condition of the plating because the piece is either very tarnished or has lost most of its original plated surface.
If a careful polish restores most of its silver sheen, this piece will have a higher value than if it remains the dull gray we see in the photographs. Pretty and shiny, this covered vegetable server has an insurance value of between $250 and $300, but, dull and gray, the value drops to more like $150 to $225.
As for the Feb. 9, 1869, patent date, we have found it on other pieces of Meriden silver plate, so it does not just pertain to this particular object.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson are the authors of "Price It Yourself" (HarperResource, $19.95). Contact them at Treasures in Your Attic, PO Box 18350, Knoxville, TN 37928. Email them at email@example.com.