OT: Just curious. We have bright silver brass on our cars but what are the silver lights made of on early 1900 European cars? A friend said it might be steel with a flash of copper, nickel then chrome. Just wondering. Thanks.
sorry did not mean to use the word 'silver' above before the word 'brass.'
Could be German silver;
If I read the links correctly, did not contain silver but was similar in color.
Chrome plating really didn't come into use till the late 20's early 30's most everything was Nickel plated.
Nickel plating over brass or steel was very common on automobiles from the late 1890s until about 1904. Curved Dash Oldsmobiles and many early steam cars (among others) used it quite a bit. I have also seen it on European cars of the era.
Drive carefully, and enjoy, W2
As I understand it, you cannot plate chrome directly onto steel - it won't stick. The normal procedure is to plate it with nickel, then over-plate with chrome.
I learned this when I was refurbishing the door hardware on an old house in New Orleans, where I grew up and my brother still lives. When the plating company plated the parts with nickel, I was satisfied with the look and stopped the process before the chrome, which would have doubled the cost.
That was 55 years ago, and the knobs and escutcheons still look great. If you didn't know it was nickel instead of chrome, you couldn't tell.
Nickel has a yellowish tint to it, where chrome is almost a blue. If you see them side by side, you can definitely tell the difference. Nickel is a warm color where chrome is kinda harsh. Sorta like the difference between incandescent lighting and white LEDs.
Chrome is used over nickel to provide corrosion protection, as it is denser than nickel I have been told that chrome is really a transparent blue color, which is why the difference between the two. Pater, you did well to stop at nickel, as the original hardware was likely only nickel. Nickel planting used to have to be polished to make it shine, but the process today is different, and it can come out of the vat shiny. Most nickel under chrome is pretty thin, and if no chrome, would not last long, but well-done nickel plating can last a Loooong time.
The RR car I worked on; a 1927 American RR had all "German Silver" trim, headlights, cowl lights, running board trim, cowl band, radiator tanks & sides, hood hinge, tailights, etc. etc. German Silver actually has no silver in it, though!. All that trim needed was polishing to look "like a million bucks." Platers don't like it, no biz for them!!
so just to echo what has been said (i think) chrome is actually a clear protective coating put on nickel to give it a brighter shine that will tarnish more slowly. Nickel is actually what makes something look "silver." Now... that being said, I have herd of older cars having lights made of true silver (not nickel)
I am about 98% certain you are talking about "German Silver". Real silver has always been expensive, and is too soft for such a use. The headlight reflectors, though, were plated or coated with silver, as it has a reflectivity factor that greatly exceeds both nickel and chrome. So much so, that Chrome was outlawed as a headlight reflector coating (and the law is still on the books in many states).
German Silver ( what you are talking about ) does indeed look like silver. It is an alloy usually made of about 60% Copper, 20% nickel and 20% zinc.
It was used in pricier cars of the teens and 20's. A friend from the HCCA, (you may remember him David) John Williamson, had a cole with a "German Silver" radiator... really impressive until you realize that it is just the same as brass (an alloy of copper and Zinc) but with a bit of nickel thrown into the pot.
Also in regards to chrome, it's process is called triple chroming. This is because the part is first plated with a thick layer of copper. The copper is then polished to get the final smoothness, it also fills in pits. Next comes nickel which will not plate onto the steel. Then you finish it off with a thin coat of chromium. The chrome makes the part hard and resistant to oxidation.
I once pulled the wooden grips off of my 1885 Rudge ordinary (high wheel bicycle). I discovered that the painted handlebars had been nickel plated originally. That 1885 plating was really magnificent. It had a brilliant mirror like shine. I had an automotive chroming shop do the first two steps ( copper then Nickle) and stop there. The bars were nice, not up to the 1885 standard, but very nice... for a couple of years and then it yellowed and started pitting.
A bit long winded, but the answer to the original question is.... German Silver, currently known as Nickle Silver.
Yeah, Terry, I do remember. Your nickel plating didn't hold up because most modern platers use "Bright Nickel" anodes, designed to be used under chrome plating---thinner coating, and comes out of the vat shiny, unlike the "grey nickel" which had to be polished and put on a "denser" layer. If you'd asked the plater & IF he'd do it, a double coat of nickel plating would have likely lasted longer.