Sheffield cutler and inventor of the famous Sheffield Plate. A specialist in steel manufacturing processes.
Thomas Boulsover, born in Longley, 1705, was a Sheffield cutler and certainly best known as the accidental inventor of Sheffield Plate. Legend goes that whilst repairing a customers decorative knife, he overheated the blade and noticed that the molten silver and copper had fused together very strongly. Both metals were visible but they worked as one unit. This seemingly obvious idea led Boulsover to great fortune, like lightning striking, and developed the formula to include sheets of silver on the outer layer but a thick, strong layer of copper underneath. This way he could sell things such as broaches and buttons as silver products but at a much smaller cost. He found financial assistance from Joseph Wilson, of Wilson and Sons (his own father was a scythe smith) and they had a workshop on Baker’s Hill, in Sheffield.
Other endeavours of Boulsover include the Notia Scotia Tilts, tuning an old grinding wheel in Beeley Wood into a tilt forge. He paid off debts he’d taken on starting his business and hired apprentices- one of whom, John Hoyland, started a rival business selling the same product (Boulsover never patented his work). Boulsover’s business still thrived, moving location to Norfolk Street (now the Crucible Theatre). His cultural stock rose, he was hired as one of the 24 assistants to the Master Cutler (the ambassador of the cutler industry), bought Whiteley Wood Hall for himself, became a valued member of the gentry who had a say in community ventures such as road-building, and now you are here reading about him.
Later In the century other cutlers took Boulsovers idea further with the “double sandwich” method, doubling the method, which was used for products that had a visible inside: like bowls and mugs. They also added sheets of solder and used wire to cover up the copper edges. Germany invented, well, “German silver” soon after, an alloy of zinc and nickel, and by adding this to Boulsover’s method the products born of it showed less wear and “bled” less colour (as German silver had a stronger, more dinstinctly silver colour. This was used in the early 1800’s for simple shaped products like trays and cylindrical products.
The remainder of Boulsover’s life, meanwhile, was spent on creating better quality steel. He made saws with cast steel (the same kind created by fellow Yorkshire alum Benjamin Hunstman centuries earlier) whilst continuing his traditional button making business. He was married to his wife Hannah for 44 years until her death in 1772. Boulsover was helped by business partner Anthony Thompson and his children, the former who took over management of his mills and saw business. He died in 1788.