Manufacturers early on realized there was a segment of the market that desired the features of cast iron cookware, but perhaps did not care for its rustic appearance or the maintenance it required. One of the first ways makers addressed this issue was to offer plated versions, first in a nickel finish, and later in chromium. Nickel-plated pieces are known from as early as the 1890s, with manufacturers seen moving to chromium in the 1930s.
Plated pieces varied in finish from a dull, silvery gray to a low luster to a bright mirror polish.
Griswold's "Silverlike" was a matte, unpolished chrome finish. Wagner's "Silverlite" appears to have been the same.
Griswold's "Du Chro" was a combination, the bottoms and insides being satin, the sides, tops of handles, and other highlights being highly polished. This finish may have been a bit of marketing spin on leaving unpolished those parts that would be far too labor-intensive to polish or would otherwise soon become marred by usage anyway.
Although some pieces were plated inside and out, some appear to have been made leaving the cooking surface bare iron. Perhaps makers realized it would quickly deteriorate from utensil scratching. The application of a substance-- a wax perhaps-- would have been necessary to prevent the plating adhering to selected areas.
Plating was popular enough that even cast iron cookware toys were seen plated.
Far fewer plated pieces are seen after the early 1940s, the decline perhaps WWII-related.
As collectibles, plated pieces appear to have value exceeding their bare iron counterparts only if the plating is intact. Otherwise, collectors seem to prefer bare iron over worn plating.
The question often arises regarding the removal of plating from worn pieces in order to leave them bare iron. While nickeled pieces appear simply to be plated versions of their plain iron counterparts, chromed pieces, where a mirror finish was desired, were first machine-polished smooth. De-plated chromed pieces will therefore not be the same as the versions originally produced as bare iron.
Similarly, the question is often asked about the possibility of re-plating worn pieces. The answer is that it would in most cases be too cost-prohibitive, and the result, being inauthentic, would not be considered as valuable as an intact original.
Is it nickel or is it chrome? Older pieces are more likely to be nickel than chrome. Wagner used only nickel. Nickel-plated pieces usually exhibit a warmer, yellowish tone whereas chrome (chromium) gives a colder, bluish impression. Nickel is often finished only to a soft luster; chrome typically to a high, mirror-like polish, if not left satin/matte.
Plated pieces can safely be cleaned using lye, and even very fine steel wool. Self-cleaning oven treatment may permanently discolor plating. Electrolysis cleaning should be avoided, as it can actually remove plating, especially if its adhesion is already compromised.
A gallery of nickel and chrome plated pieces.