Alpaca Silver - what is it?
Alpaca Silver (Alpacca) refers to an alloy* that imitates sterling silver. This non-precious bright silvery-grey metal alloy is made up of copper, zinc and nickel and sometimes iron. Alpaca Silver does NOT contain any real silver; it is just another name for Nickel Silver.
Nickel silver, Mailechort, German silver, Argentan, new silver, nickel brass, albata, alpacca, or electrum is a copper alloy with nickel and often zinc. The usual formulation is 60% copper, 20% nickel and 20% zinc. Nickel silver is named for its silvery appearance, but it contains no elemental silver unless plated. The name "German silver" refers to its development by 19th-century German metalworkers in imitation of the Chinese alloy known as paktong (cupronickel). All modern, commercially important nickel silvers (such as those standardized under ASTM B122) contain significant amounts of zinc, and are sometimes considered a subset of brass.
Nickel silver was first known and used in China. During the Qing dynasty, it was "smuggled into various parts of the East Indies", despite a government ban on the export of nickel silver. It became known in the West from imported wares called baitong (Mandarin) or paktong (Cantonese) (白銅, literally "white copper"), for which the silvery metal colour was used to imitate sterling silver. According to Berthold Laufer, it was identical with khar sini, one of the seven metals recognized by Jābir ibn Hayyān.
In Europe, consequently, it was at first called paktong, which is about the way baitong is pronounced in the Cantonese dialect. The earliest European mention of paktong occurs in the year 1597. From then until the end of the eighteenth century there are references to it as having been exported from Canton to Europe. German imitations of paktong, however, began to appear from about 1750 onward. In 1770 the Suhl (Germany) metalworks were able to produce a similar alloy. In 1823 a German competition was held to perfect the production process: the goal was to develop an alloy that possessed the closest visual similarity to silver. The brothers Henniger in Berlin and Ernst August Geitner in Schneeberg independently achieved this goal. The manufacturer Berndorf named the trademark brand Alpacca, which became widely known in northern Europe for nickel silver. In 1830 the German process of manufacture was introduced into England, while exports of paktong from China gradually stopped. That is why today the alloy has lost its original name (paktong) and is generally known as German silver. In 1832, a form of German silver was also developed in Birmingham, England.
After 1840, the development of electroplating caused nickel silver to become widely used. It formed an ideal, strong and bright substrate for the plating process. It was also used unplated in applications such as cheaper grades of cutlery.