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Nickel silver is a metal alloy of copper with nickel and often but not always zinc. It is named for its silvery appearance, but contains no elemental silver unless plated. Other common names for this alloy are German silver, paktong, new silver and alpacca (or alpaca).
Nickel silver is first known in China and was known in the west from imported wares called paktong or pakfong, where the silvery metal colour was used to imitate sterling silver. It was discovered to be a copper-nickel-zinc alloy in the 18th century. In 1770 the Suhl (Germany) metalworks were able to produce a similar alloy and in 1823 a competition was initiated to perfect the production process by creating an alloy that possessed the closest visual similarity to silver.
The brothers Henniger in Berlin and A. Geitner in Schneeberg independently achieved this goal. Alpaca became a widely known name in northern Europe for nickel silver after it was used as a trademark brand by the manufacturer Berndorf. A form of German silver was also invented in Birmingham, England in 1832.
Nickel silver became widely used after 1840 with the development of electroplating, as 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.