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Silver or Nickel silver mounted?

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This question has been bugging me for over a year... please help.

I have seen some bows that say nickel silver mounted, as well as some other bows that say silver mounted, and for me it is so hard to tell them apart. What kinds of methods do you use to tell them apart? As a female, I can easily differentiate sterling silver jewelries or white gold jewelries from other silver-color-plated ones, but these bow mountings just look the same to me, whether old or new.

By the way, I heard that in the bow world sometimes the term silver is liberally used to include nickel silver as well, but here I mean silver that is differently classified than nickel silver (as in 'gold > silver > nickel silver' kind of way.) And I don't know the exact difference between the metals classified this way, either... For instance, is the silver here sterling silver, or what is it?

Thanks everyone in advance!

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Most modern bows are sterling silver or fine silver,many older bows are more the fine silver,especially the French ones as the makers had to use i think 98% silver by law.

Just like jewellry real silver looks `whiter`than nickel silver(which looks more like chrome plating).When silver fittings are newly polished they can be slightly harder to deferentiate from nickel but they soon take on the whiter metal look again.

On older bows you will sometimes see green copper oxide in the harder to clean areas of the bow mountings.But this can also be confusing especially on the underslide ,where the green oxide can spread from the brass or bronze eyelet(the part where the threaded adjuster goes through).

If this makes sense ,silver looks softer than nickelsilver,and it is physically softer as well.Silver mountings are far easily damaged than the nickel ones.

Also on older bows that havent been cleaned the silver parts will gradually turn black caused by sulphur in the atmosphere,this can be accelerated by simply having something made of rubber near to the bow.

One other point is that nickel silver doesn`t in fact contain any silver metal.It is an alloy of nickel/copper,etc..It is the copper content which causes the green powdery coating you can often see.

It can be hard to tell the difference in photos of bows.

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To slightly rephrase what fiddle collector said:

It is easy to tell silver-mounted bows from nickel when the metal is tarnished. Silver tarnishes black and nickel tarnishes a yellow-green.

It is much harder to tell them apart when the metal is polished, but silver looks whiter while nickel has a slight yellow hue. Sometimes small amouts of tell-tale tarnish remains in crevices.

Nickel-mounted bows are sometimes optimistically called nickel silver or German silver, but neither nickel silver nor German silver contains any silver. I'm not sure of the exact silver content in the fittings of silver-mounted bows -- it probably varies somewhat with the maker or workshop. When I make bow fittings, I use the stuff that the jewelry suppliers call sterling silver which I think is 92.5% silver.

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I acquired two used bows at about the same time, and the fittings looked virtually identical to me. Neither had obvious tarnish, but both appeared a bit dull, so I applied a small amount of silver polish to one with a Q-tip. The cotton turned black, and the metal looked brighter. On the other bow, there was no change. I assumed that the first bow was silver and the other nickel. Is this a reasonable conclusion? If so, then this seems like a reliable test for silver.

Mary

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Sometimes you can tell just by looking (as mentioned previously).

For a couple of dollars, you can buy a small bottle of silver testing solution at a jewelry supply shop (these would be the ones who sell tools and silver and gold findings, not jewelry dealers). You can find jewelry supply shops in larger cities.

Try putting a drop of nitric acid on the silver. If it is sterling silver, it should turn cloudy cream, but nickel silver turns dark or blackish. There is also a testing solution that I believe has sulfuric acid in it. I will look for my bottle tomarrow. If the label says what it contains, I will post it.

I suggest you try your test first on known samples of silver and German nickel, and then compare to your unknown. Also, expect to have to polish the silver or the German nickel after the test.

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I checked on the solution and it is a nitric acid solution, but remember that silver fittings are only an "indicator" of some level of quality.

Even the website (below) for the testing solution advises you first to seek out a trained jeweler (or, in this case, bow expert) and ask them how to tell. If you see black tarnish, and the metal appears to be silver, I don't advise doing the solution procedure.

Following the procedure below requires making a little scratch or nick in the metal before testing.

Silver test kit

This site advises you to seek out a trained jeweler and ask them, but as a secondary approach, it advises making a little scratch or nick in the metal before testing. The only place you can do that without it being unsightly is on the inside back edge of the ferrule, or inside it (not really recommended for fine bows). If the test shows it is silver, then just use visual judgement to ascertain whether the rest of the fittings are similar.

Procedure described on website:

The procedure is simple. You make a nick in a hidden spot on the piece of jewelry you wish to test with a file or needle (also available for purchase). Next, place a drop of the acid on the scratch. The color that results will give you an indication of the silver content of the item. Most kits come with a color chart to aid in interpretation. (Different testing solutions yield different color results.)

The "reading" of the scratch results is a bit subjective. You will learn if the jewelry piece has silver in it, or not. You will also get a general sense of how pure the silver is. However, you don't get a number from these tests; they won't tell you "925/1000 -- it's sterling!"

One piece of information you can glean from the test, even without the drop of acid, is whether the piece you are testing is plated or not. A slight nick is enough to cut through plating and reveal if that solid sterling jewelry you bought is really sterling through and through.

Another approach is to take your jewelry to a lab, have it melted down, and then assayed. That, of course, has an obvious drawback! Again, train your eye and then trust your own judgment.

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Which is more valuable?  A fine 19th century all original certified nickel mounted bow, OR the same bow with a silver mounted replacement button (certified as such)?  In the latter case, is it possible to know whether the original button was nickel or silver?

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I think it could depend, at least in part, on whether the bow is valued more as a collector's bow or player's bow.  A collector's bow is more valuable with all original parts.  It doesn't make as much difference with a player's bow.

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20 minutes ago, Brad Dorsey said:

I think it could depend, at least in part, on whether the bow is valued more as a collector's bow or player's bow.  A collector's bow is more valuable with all original parts.  It doesn't make as much difference with a player's bow.

Is it possible for an expert to determine whether a bow with a silver replacement button (certified as such) was originally mounted with nickel or silver?

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Gold is about 2x the price of silver, and silver is about 2x the price of Ni, but a replaced button is a 10%+ hit to the value.

As to playability: no difference, unless a button is unusually heavy, like some extruded Aluminum Hill buttons.

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7 hours ago, duane88 said:

Gold is about 2x the price of silver, and silver is about 2x the price of Ni, but a replaced button is a 10%+ hit to the value.

As to playability: no difference, unless a button is unusually heavy, like some extruded Aluminum Hill buttons.

Gold is in fact currently 88x the price of silver or are you refering to the price of a gold mounted bow versus a silver mounted one from new?

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On 10/10/2019 at 12:26 PM, bob kadarauch said:

Which is more valuable?  A fine 19th century all original certified nickel mounted bow, OR the same bow with a silver mounted replacement button (certified as such)?  In the latter case, is it possible to know whether the original button was nickel or silver?

Hi Bob, nice to see you here.

I agree entirely with Duane - an original button trumps a replacement, even if the replacement is made of better materials. In other words, even if the button is silver not nickel, if it's not original to the stick then you have to devalue by around 10% (more if it's a real collector's bow).

I have personally never seen an original silver button on a nickel frog - I suppose it's possible but I can't see how it would be logical. Much more likely to be a replacement, even if taken from another bow by the same maker. I would always assume a nickel frog started out life with a nickel adjuster.

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7 hours ago, fiddlecollector said:

Gold is in fact currently 88x the price of silver or are you refering to the price of a gold mounted bow versus a silver mounted one from new?

Yes, in the form of a bow.

 

2 hours ago, martin swan said:

Hi Bob, nice to see you here.

I agree entirely with Duane - an original button trumps a replacement, even if the replacement is made of better materials. In other words, even if the button is silver not nickel, if it's not original to the stick then you have to devalue by around 10% (more if it's a real collector's bow).

I have personally never seen an original silver button on a nickel frog - I suppose it's possible but I can't see how it would be logical. Much more likely to be a replacement, even if taken from another bow by the same maker. I would always assume a nickel frog started out life with a nickel adjuster.

All of the bow makers who I have encountered decline to work in Nickel, so the button gets replaced in silver, which is followed by, "you know, I could just make you a silver-mounter frog for that..."

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