Nickel Silver, known by a host of other names including German Silver, albata, new silver, and alpaca/alpacca, is an alloy of nickel, zinc, and copper. Because it's alloyed with zinc and copper, some people regard it as a relative of brass. It's important to note (and tell your customers) that nickel silver doesn't actually contain any silver; instead, it is engineered to closely resemble silver at a fraction of the cost.
Nickel silver was developed, as an alternative to the Chinese alloy paktong, by German metalworkers in the 19th century. The Chinese developed this silver look-alike centuries ago, with secret exports to Southeast Asia resulting in an effort by colonizing Europeans to duplicate the guarded formula. In the 1700s metalworkers got close, and in 1823, German competition yielded a winner. Around the same time, a British man discovered a similar metal alloy.
Following its discovery, the use of nickel silver exploded. It has been used in on dining tables nearly since its discovery; some sets of silverware are stamped EPNS, which stands for Electro-plated nickel silver, which is silverware that has been made with nickel silver and electroplated with real silver. These "silver" sets are of no value to a metal recycler, but are becoming more rare every year, so perhaps they will have historical value. Also, as the silver finish wears away, the nickel silver is actually brighter, due to its tarnish resistance, so an EPNS set Used practically everywhere: keys, zippers, jewelry, silverware, wind instruments including French horns and flutes (can be silver-plated) and frets of guitars, automobiles, coins and even tracks in model railroads. It typically resists tarnish and corrosion. Used extensively by metalsmiths of the Kiowa and Pawnee tribes in Oklahoma.
Nickel silver looks much like true silver, although it can have a slight goldish tone to it. It is highly tarnish resistant and will only slightly darken with age - it really doesn't react to liver of sulfur, unlike sterling silver and copper relatives such as bronze, brass, and pure copper. Nickel silver is especially in chainmaille, where it is prized for its affordability and tarnish resistance. Could you imagine polishing a large bracelet made from sterling silver? How about an entire garment!