What are Nickel Silver, German Silver and Alpaca? tiffany nyckel

What are Nickel Silver, German Silver and Alpaca?

Don't Be Fooled by These Silver-colored Metals

Five German Silver Purses, c. late 1890s
Five German Silver Purses, c. late 1890s. Morphy Auctions

So you find a piece of jewelry or an old metal object for a good price that looks a lot like silver. Being an astute picker, you look for clues to identify the piece and discover that it’s marked nickel silver, German silver or alpaca. But does that mean your item is really some form of old silver? Unfortunately, the answer is no.

There are times when antique dealers and collectors are misinformed and they reference these objects as true silver when selling them or teaching others about what's what in the world of collecting.

This sort of error in attribution has even been noted on television programs related to antiques and collectibles. Read on to find out the difference between nickel silver, also known as German silver, and alpaca in comparison to true sterling silver. 

What is Nickel Silver and German Silver?

The terms “nickel silver” and “German silver” actually refer to the same substance, but items made of this metal are not really silver at all. Nickel or German “silver” is a white alloy containing copper, zinc and nickel. It contains no actual silver.

This type of metal was developed in Germany in the late 1800s as a less expensive substitute for silver. While antiques and collectibles marked nickel silver or German silver might hold some value because of the form, as in the instance of an antique cigar case or old purses (like the examples shown here), items marked nickel or German silver cannot be scrapped for cash.

In most instances, they are far less valuable than similar objects made of sterling silver.

What is Alpaca?

Jewelry items with a gray metallic finish, not quite as shiny as sterling silver, are often found marked alpaca. This type of alloy, sometimes spelled alpacca, also indicates a metal containing copper, zinc, and nickel along with tin.

These items are often decorated with abalone insets or other stones. While they can be nice looking, they don’t hold a lot of value being made of this inexpensive silver substitute.

These pieces are often of Mexican or South American origin. Other larger decorative objects can also be marked alpaca. This substance can sometimes be used as a base metal for silver plated wares as well. Alpaca is also referred to as “new silver” from time to time. Like nickel silver, alpaca has no actual silver content and no scrap value.

Other Types of "Silver" That Fall Short

There are a number of other types of "silver" that don't measure up to sterling. If you run across a piece marked 800 or 900, for instance, those aren't considered to be sterling silver either, although they do have more silver content than nickel silver and alpaca.

Keep in mind that these type of alloys contain 80 to 90 percent silver, so they fall short of the sterling standard of 925. Sometimes 900 silver is referenced as coin silver or standard silver, while 800 silver might be called European silver. 

Additionally, items that are silver plated should not be referenced as sterling. Many antiques and collectibles are marked so they can easily be identified as silver plate with marks that contain signal wording such as "quadruple plate." 

Learning More About Sterling Silver Antiques and Collectibles

Looking at the Basic Guide to Understanding Silver Marks and Terms, collectors learn that silver is the most abundant of the precious metals. It has been used for centuries to craft everything from adornments to eating utensils. It is not at its purest, however, when used for those purposes because it would be too soft to stand up to everyday wear. Silver must be mixed with other non-precious metals to make it stronger, so even the silver making up a true sterling object is considered to be an alloy.

For an object to be called sterling silver, it must be made of an alloy including 92.5 percent silver. Those items are often marked .925 or "sterling." Another type of alloy sometimes called Brittania Silver will be marked 950 because it has 95 percent silver content.

It actually exceeds the qualification for sterling silver.

So, bottom line, if an item does not have at least 92.5 percent silver content, it is incorrect to call it sterling. These false forms of silver sometimes get mislabeled, however, so be sure to look for correct markings before paying top dollar for something evaluated as sterling in an antique shop or at auction.

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Background Information

Employment History

Executive Director

Kansas Disability Coalition , Inc.

Inter-related Special Education Teacher

Kansas Disability Coalition , Inc.


Wheelchair Sports Inc


Sedgwick County Spinal Cord Support Group

Active Member


Board Member


Bachelor of Science degree


Emporia State University

Web References(23 Total References)


Tiffany Nickel donned a sash and crown in a Topeka hotel convention room Sunday afternoon.
But this was no ordinary pageant. Nickel was named 2010's Ms. Wheelchair Kansas. The 36-year-old Wichita resident is a quadriplegic, but her identity reaches beyond that bit of information. She is also the executive director of the Kansas Disability Coalition and has taught special education in Wichita Public Schools for 10 years. "We deserve to have our capabilities noticed," Nickel said during a question-and-answer session at Sunday's competition. Nickel was one of three contestants Sunday, including Topekan Sharon Joseph. The feisty 58-year-old, when asked what kind of weather condition she would be, ...

Excellence In Public Service Award

Tiffany Nickel, interrelated teacher from Jackson Elementary School, is the 2007 recipient of the Excellence in Public Service Award.Tiffany Nickel, interrelated teacher from Jackson Elementary School, is the 2007 recipient of the Excellence in Public Service Award.The award is given annually to an employee of the district, the City of Wichita and Sedgwick County who show excellence in their job responsibilities and who are actively involved in the community.Nickel was surprised by Superintendent Brooks, Board of Education member Shirley Jefferson and her family on May 14.Working as a member of the fourth- and fifth-grade level teams, Tiffany teaches special education students within their regular education classrooms.This requires extensive planning, communication and adjustment.At the core of her teaching is a desire to make everyone - adults and students - successful in the journey of education. Ignoring the time clock, Tiffany often stays late into the evening to tutor and she frequently attends evening and weekend music and athletic events to cheer her students on.She organized the recycling program at her school and often meets with her students for one-on-one lunches. Tiffany is a ten-year member and acting president of Wheelchair Sports, Incorporated, an organization whose mission is to encourage physically disabled persons to socialize and live active lifestyles, in spite of physical limitations.She is also the executive director of Kansas Disability Coalition, Inc., which seeks to educate and advocate for open doors and equal access for people with physical disabilities. Tiffany is an active member of the Sedgwick County Spinal Cord Support Group and she meets with women throughout the region as part of the Women's Spinal Cord Support Group, which she initiated.Both groups serve to inform, encourage and provide hope to those who suffer from all the restrictions that a spinal cord injury brings.Tiffany is a long-standing volunteer for the Association of Retarded Citizens and is active with a a group called "Circle of Friends" comprised of special education and regular education students who produce a variety/talent show.This is just one of the ways that Tiffany is breaking down the barriers between individuals.Through her exemplary teaching and extensive volunteer service to our community, Tiffany is changing lives and making Wichita a better place.


Tiffany Nickel
Board Member at Large


Tiffany NickelWheelchair Sports, Inc.Email Tiffany Nickel

New Ms. Wheelchair Crowned

Tiffany Nickel of Wichita received her crown after participating in four judging sessions, as well as many other activities, throughout the three-day event held March 12-14.
The weekend concluded with a formal crowning, where Tiffany was chosen as the new titleholder and fellow contestants Sharon Joseph of Topeka and Brooke Ziegler of Wichita were recognized for their accomplishments. Tiffany, the new titleholder, has a passion for educating others about the abilities of people with disabilities. She does this by demonstrating her own abilities through her job and volunteer activities. Tiffany obtained her Bachelor of Science degree in Education from Emporia State University in 1995. She currently lives in Wichita and is an inter-related intermediate special education teacher in Wichita Public Schools, where she has taught for the past ten years. Tiffany is also the Executive Director of the Kansas Disability Coalition, Inc. She has a large interest in sports and is currently the President of Wheelchair Sports, Inc. Tiffany, who is quadriplegic, is an advocate for equality of all people. She believes that anything is possible as long as you have a support system, as well as a great set of tires and a charged battery! Tiffany will serve as a role model and spokesperson for people with disabilities in Kansas in the coming year. Tiffany will have the opportunity to travel throughout Kansas educating various groups about the issues of importance to people with disabilities. With this platform, Tiffany will work to highlight the accomplishments of the disability community, as well as encourage acceptance and equality throughout our state.


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