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Nickel chloride is a light green and most nickel-plated items that I have seen that were weathered had a dull grey patina, probably from oxides. I have not seen a black or dark brown color on nickel-plated items. Coinage nickels can develop a dark grey to black color when exposed to sulfuric acid. I suspect that the color has a great deal to do with the salt that is formed in the patina. I seriously doubt that a working boat would have had a silver-plated bell. It would have been either un-plated bronze or would have been nickel-plated.