Description & Technical information

Paktong, a silvery alloy sometimes also called 'white copper', was very popular during the second half of the 18th century for a range of domestic applications, and Robert Adam often stipulated that it was to be used for his chimneypieces.
The alloy was originally imported from China at considerable cost. Its silver-like appearance and resistance to tarnishing are due to a specific combination of copper, nickel and zinc.  Chinese paktong of the 18th century contains 8 to 10 per cent nickel, with copper and zinc in roughly equal proportions. Its composition remained a secret for many years, but the alloy was eventually copied by European countries and by 1820 European paktong had superseded the original Chinese version.
The composition of the later European paktong does however differ significantly from the Chinese formula.  The amount of zinc is reduced by half, and the amount of copper and nickel is correspondingly increased by half.
Metal testing of the fire grate has revealed that its composition matches the later European paktong, but not samples of the 18th century Chinese import.  The earlier date suggested by W. D. John and Katherine Coombes in 1970 is therefore incorrect, and a date of circa 1880 is highly probable.

Date:  1880
Period:  Victorian, 19th century
Origin:  English
Dimensions: 89 x 86 x 42 cm (35 x 33⁷/₈ x 16¹/₂ inches)
Provenance: Mallett & Son Ltd., London, England.
Private collection, USA.
Literature: Illustrated:
W.D. John & Katherine Coombes, Paktong - The Non-tarnishible Chinese Silver Alloy  used for Adam Firegrates and Early Georgian Candlesticks, London 1970, plate 3.
Categories: Furniture