SILVER IS RICHLY appealing, even more so than gold (perhaps because the use of gold has often led to decorative excess and tasteless glitter). Although silver has had its baroque, rococo and late-Victorian flourishes, silver design has historically moved in the direction of elegance and restraint, judging from artifacts found in the royal graves at Ur in Mesopotamia (2000 BC) and Inca jewelry from the silver mines of Peru (1000 BC).
To the contemporary sensibility, perhaps the most appealing of all silver work was produced by the neoclassical English and American silversmiths of the 18th and early 19th centuries. Though their work varies greatly, this group of craftsmen is collectively called Georgian, since the young George III came to the throne in 1760, just as a classical revival in the decorative arts was taking place.
Georgian silversmiths worked with both sterling silver (925 parts silver to 75 parts copper) and a less expensive Sheffield plate perfected in the 1740s (a thin layer of silver fused to copper). They produced a great body of work along Greek and Roman lines, using tripod and column motifs, decorative effects like rams' heads, pine-cone finials and scrolling friezes, as well as vase and urn shapes from antiquity.