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  1. #1
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    Clan badge mystery ...

    I recently purchased a Colquhoun clan badge from an Etsy "shop" based in the UK. Good reviews. Nearly 400 sales (mostly vintage jewelry) and a 4.5 rating. It was described as being "antique sterling silver." Although it was noted as being unmarked, the seller also noted that it had been tested and determined to be sterling. As I later learned from my jeweler, it would not have been uncommon for the sterling mark to have been on the pin itself, which had been replaced at some point over the years.

    I loved the design and shape of the badge, which I thought would be perfect for my new Mackie Balmoral in fawn, so I bought it.

    Here are some photos ...

    IMG_6533.jpg

    IMG_6535.jpg

    IMG_6536.jpg

    I loved it up on arrival. The design is so much nicer (in my mind) than the contemporary clan badges. Since it was advertised as vintage (perhaps around 1910), I took it to my jeweler to make sure the pin was secure before I affixed it to my new Balmoral.

    Lo and behold, my jeweler determined the badge is NOT sterling silver. It is "alpaca" (or "alpacca"), which I had not heard of before. Apparently it is an alloy of copper, nickel, zinc and other metals. Sometimes, it's referred to as "German silver," although it's very common on jewelry produced in Mexico.

    I contacted the Etsy seller and let her know what I had learned. She was apologetic and agreed to my request for a 50% refund on the purchase price. I considered returning it for a full refund, but I actually like the badge so decided to keep it.

    While I would infinitely prefer that it HAD tested as Sterling silver, I've accepted that it is not.

    But, here's my question ... do any of you know of Scottish jewelry being made in Alpaca? At the very least, I would like to know that while the badge is not sterling, it IS vintage instead of some cheap contemporary knock-off ...

  2. #2
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    The name Alpacca is a trade name of the German firm "Berndorf" and dates back to the 1820's.
    Today this is called - Nickle Silver, Argentan, Maillcourt, New Silver, and Nickle brass.

    The ISO standard alloy is 60% Copper, 20% Nickle, 20% Zinc.

    While known in China since the 1300's where it was known as Paktong, it was popularized in Germany in the early 1800's and today is perhaps the premier, non Silver but still retaining the Silver color, metal alloy in use for jewelry, musical instruments, zippers, high quality keys, electroplated cutlery and tableware known as EPNS.

    From the design the most likely dates are since the end of WWI. Badges of this style are still made and sold today.
    Last edited by Steve Ashton; 8th September 21 at 02:32 PM.
    Steve Ashton
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  4. #3
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    Your Clan badge may be made of the purest silver ever minted, but unless it has an official assay mark(eg, Edinburgh, London, Birmingham and others), a makers stamp and a date mark(Hall Marks), it is illegal in the UK to be sold as silver. Often it is called "white metal" if the correct stamps are absent, but be warned, that does not necessarily mean its silver, it could be anything. What happens in other countries I cannot say.

    Silver Hall Marks are a huge subject and there are pages and pages of interest on the internet on the subject.
    Last edited by Jock Scot; 9th September 21 at 02:46 AM.
    " Rules are for the guidance of wise men and the adherence of idle minds and minor tyrants". Field Marshal Lord Slim.

  5. #4
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    Since the middle-ages, it has been law in Britain for commercially-made items in precious metals - silver, gold, platinum - to be hallmarked in specific ways, both for the metal and the purity.

    If there is no hallmark, it is a base-metal or a forgery. Simple as that.

    The hallmark confirms quality of metal, place and date of manufacture, and reputable firms have their own recorded marks, too. Imported items must be stamped accordingly. The marks will be a symbol for the particular Assay office, a metal quality mark, and a date symbol in the form of a letter. All these can be found easily on-line.

    Bespoke commissions, very small or DIY items are exempt, but they often carry simple .925 or Stg. marks if real silver. Gold or platinum will mostly have proper hallmarks (only given by the Assay office after testing and authentication) on account of their cost and value. Modern hallmarking is now also done with laser.

    It is possible to find 'antique' objects with genuine hallmarks, but the item is a forgery with genuine hallmarks from another piece added to fool the unwarey. China and the Far-East are known for this kind of product.

    For example, a small but genuine Victorian or Georgian item with appropriate hallmarks, say a teaspoon, will be 'remade' into a large collectors' piece showing the hallmarks, and passed off as original.

    A clan badge of this sort, if in a precious metal, will commonly have the hallmarks in an obvious place on the reverse, and so are easy to identify. Nickel silver or pewter has long been a popular substitute for good quality clan items, as they need periodic polishing like genuine silver, and are virtually indistinguishable from the precious metal version.

    This badge has an appealing 'retro' style to it, and therefore some rarity value. Modern mass-produced pewter badges usually sell for between 20-30 ($27-$42) so you should be able to work out whether what you have paid after the refund is right for you.

    It's a nice item, whatever...

  6. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Ashton View Post
    The name Alpacca is a trade name of the German firm "Berndorf" and dates back to the 1820's.
    Today this is called - Nickle Silver, Argentan, Maillcourt, New Silver, and Nickle brass.

    The ISO standard alloy is 60% Copper, 20% Nickle, 20% Zinc.

    While known in China since the 1300's where it was known as Paktong, it was popularized in Germany in the early 1800's and today is perhaps the premier, non Silver but still retaining the Silver color, metal alloy in use for jewelry, musical instruments, zippers, high quality keys, electroplated cutlery and tableware known as EPNS.

    From the design the most likely dates are since the end of WWI. Badges of this style are still made and sold today.
    Thanks very much for the additional background on Alpacca! I appreciate it.

  7. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jock Scot View Post
    Your Clan badge may be made of the purest silver ever minted, but unless it has an official assay mark(eg, Edinburgh, London, Birmingham and others), a makers stamp and a date mark(Hall Marks), it is illegal in the UK to be sold as silver. Often it is called "white metal" if the correct stamps are absent, but be warned, that does not necessarily mean its silver, it could be anything. What happens in other countries I cannot say.

    Silver Hall Marks are a huge subject and there are pages and pages of interest on the internet on the subject.
    Thanks very much, Jock.

  8. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Troglodyte View Post
    This badge has an appealing 'retro' style to it, and therefore some rarity value. Modern mass-produced pewter badges usually sell for between 20-30 ($27-$42) so you should be able to work out whether what you have paid after the refund is right for you.

    It's a nice item, whatever...
    I agree that it's an appealing badge regardless of the material with which it is made. And while I would prefer the "bragging rights" associated with having obtained a sterling silver clan badge for the price of pewter, I'll content myself with what I have.

  9. #8
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    Did you see the thread I did about various Clan badge makers?

    http://www.xmarksthescot.com/forum/f...s-sizes-96935/

    Your badge looks very much in the style of Thomas Kerr Ebbutt c1900-1977. Here's a Sterling Silver badge by that firm hallmarked 1930.



    About the metal of your badge, I've generally heard it called "German Silver" here, while in Scotland they usually have called it "nickel silver" or simply "nickel". I've also heard "cupro-nickel".

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nickel_silver

    It was a very common metal for badges in the British army, who called it "white metal".

    The only time I've heard it called "Alpacca" was by a luthier in Bolivia, he uses it for the frets on his guitars and Charangos. I didn't know it was a German trade name.

    By whatever name, that metal was by far the most common metal for "Highland ornaments" throughout the Victorian era and right up into the 1950s and 1960s.

    Cap badges, crossbelt hardware, waistbelt buckles, dirk and sgian fitments, Highland bagpipe ferrules, etc were made of it, both in military and civilian Highland Dress. Kilt pins, probably due to their small size, were more commonly seen in Sterling Silver.

    Here's a set of bagpipes, R. G. Lawrie (Glasgow) c1905, ebony, ivory, and German Silver.



    Here, on the right, is a vintage set of crossbelt hardware in solid German Silver.

    On the left is the modern cheap-looking chrome-plated version.

    I've purposely left the vintage set with a patina. When fully polished German Silver looks amazingly like Sterling Silver.

    Last edited by OC Richard; 10th September 21 at 05:15 AM.
    Proud Mountaineer from the Highlands of West Virginia; son of the Revolution and Civil War; first Europeans on the Guyandotte

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  11. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by OC Richard View Post
    Did you see the thread I did about various Clan badge makers?

    http://www.xmarksthescot.com/forum/f...s-sizes-96935/

    Your badge looks very much in the style of Thomas Kerr Ebbutt c1900-1977. Here's a Sterling Silver badge by that firm hallmarked 1930.

    When fully polished German Silver looks amazingly like Sterling Silver.

    Thank you SO much for sharing this with me. It's fascinating!I will definitely check out your thread. And thanks for the tip about polishing German Silver. I'll try it ...

  12. #10
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    The Glasgow-based manufacturer and retailer, St Kilda Store do a good line in clan badges -

    https://stkildastore.com/Clan-Items/Clan-Badges

    They will also silver-plate pewter items for a nominal fee, so there is always that option...

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