THE SILVER-PLATED TABLEWARE INDUSTRY IN POLAND
Of the five large factories engaged in electroplating in Poland before the war, four are now in active operation. These concerns are adapting their output to conform to the demand of new customers.
One of Poland's important articles of export is silver-plated tableware either in finished or semi-finished form. This long established industry manufactures knives, forks, and spoons, the majority of which are electroplated with a thin layer of sterling silver, but in the case of the semi-manufactured articles there is no silver plating. The ability to export this material is evident as the more prominent factories have exported the bulk of their production for a number of years to Russia, Rumania, Serbia, Greece, and Turkey. Consumption in the home markets has been small in the past, totaling only 5 per cent of the output, and even today with the opening of new markets in former German and Austrian Poland, total production will be more than necessary to take care of the home markets.
Plated tableware, although it is considered more as an article of necessity than one of luxury, still denotes a certain cultural level and elevated standard of living. These levels, however, have decreased materially during the past few years due to the war, and the peasants, who at present hold most of the money available, are perfectly satisfied with less refined substitutes, using forks, knives, and spoons made of wood, iron, steel or aluminum.
Loss of Former Customers
The people who formerly were the chief buyers of this material are unable to purchase them now as a result of the decrease in their incomes and earning capacity. Before the war the principal customers were not private customers, but mainly clubs, restaurants, hotels, dining cars, and lunch rooms at railway stations. At present these customers cannot be looked upon as prospects for new business. Another large customer, the Russian Government, also procured these utensils for war and passenger ships. Single contracts were usually made by them amounting to 40,000 (gold rubles ($20,000 pre-war exchange) for outfitting a single ship. Another important consumer was the clubs, predominant among them being those composed of army officers, but as the Polish army of today has more important needs for its money and cannot yet afford such expenses and luxuries as well appointed military clubs, this consumer cannot be counted on either. Although the railways are rapidly being reorganized and improved, only a few dining cars are in operation, so that this customer is also removed for the time being. Restaurants at railway stations fearing damage or theft of their silverware by the great number of transit guests are using tin or aluminum goods. Due to the limited selling field to which they are now restricted, manufacturers have been compelled to turn their machinery to other usages. As their factories are equipped with foundries and rolling mills, they were in a position to produce munitions for the army during the war, but now that war needs are reduced to a minimum, they are again faced with the necessity of increasing the number of their foreign purchasers.
The majority of manufacturers of this material adopted a middle course in that they only converted a portion of their plants to the production of munitions, and instead of changing the rest of their production have rather adapted their output to the various requirements of foreign purchasers.
Russia, formerly the chief market for this material, requires rather heavy utensils of large dimensions, whereas the markets of western Europe prefer lighter articles of a smaller and more delicate nature. As the former Austrian and German parts of Poland have been supplied by Vienna and Bernsdorf manufacturers, their demand for the Polish article is for a higher grade and better quality than those produced for Russia. In accordance with the new requirements the factories have had to change their dies for stamping and drop-forging. This change has been effected quickly and is only another example of what can and has been accomplished by the various Polish industries since the establishment of the Republic.
Ability to Undersell Competitors
This Polish industry is able to undersell its competitors for two reasons, even though most of the raw materials, like copper, nickel, zinc, and silver must be imported. The first reason is because of the low labor cost involved in production, which factor will remain very nearly constant. The other is the present depreciation of Polish exchange, which enables merchants from other countries to buy Polish goods at a very reduced figure. The cost of materials in Poland has not followed the depreciation of the Polish mark in international exchange and consequently local labor and material may be supplied in dollars or pounds sterling at a very small cost, which is one of the largest items in the production of these articles.
New Markets Developing
France is being developed as a selling field for this material and to a smaller degree Switzerland, Belgium, and England. A number of foreign merchants who are bringing goods into Poland procure plated tableware in exchange and take it back with them to sell in their local markets. This kind of exchange is being carried on to a marked degree on account of the light weight of the merchandise carried out, and because of the high prices it brings outside of the country.
Besides the foreign markets mentioned above, a large proportion of the output is bought by emigrants who always before leaving take with them not only spoons, forks, and knives, but also plated ritual appurtenances which are not so easily found in foreign markets. It is difficult to estimate the proportion of the output which is destined for foreign trade, but from various estimates from the manufacturers, custom officials, and clergy, it is thought that about 50 per cent of the present production is sold or taken outside of the country. If properly carried out, importers and merchants selling these articles could find a profitable business in importing these Polish articles to sell to the Polish population in the United States who still retain a number of their native customs and tastes developed in their own country.
The Chamber will be pleased to supply any further information to parties interested.
Source: Journal of the American Polish Chamber of Commerce and Industry - October 1921