The Vintage Cookie

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Advice from The Vintage Cookie - Silver Plate without the Pain

I love silver and silver plate. I love the way silver looks on a dinner table, how it reflects the light. I even like polishing it -- once. There is something very satisfying about bringing home a new piece, black with tarnish, and bringing it back to life. However, it is dispiriting to re-polish, cleaning yet again a piece you have already polished. And worse, each time the piece tarnishes and must be polished you lose silver. On a solid piece the loss may be minimal, although over time any designs will be worn down. On a piece of silver plate you will eventually remove the layer of silver, revealing the base metal beneath, and ruining the piece.

So -- it is best if your silver and silver plate does not tarnish in the first place.

Tarnish on silver is mostly silver sulfide, although there may be some silver oxides or carbonates present as well. The sulfur comes out of the air and also can come out of food, paper, or latex. So here are a few rules to protect your silver

1. Store all silver and silver plate pieces in airtight packaging. I favor ziploc bags. For really big pieces I have really big bags.

2. Use a sulfur-eating product in the ziploc bag. You can buy impregnated cloth (Silver cloth), or you can use sachets of activated charcoal. The activated charcoal can be bought at any pet store. You will eventually have to replace the charcoal - how often depends on how often you open the ziploc bag. Every couple of years should do it.

3. Do not ever serve sulfur containing foods in silver. This includes all eggs, from deviled eggs to caviar. There is a reason that caviar spoons are made out of horn, not silver. Also avoid serving mushrooms on silver.

 4. Do not use rubber around silver. Use vinyl gloves, or cotton, not rubber, when handling or polishing silver. Do not use rubber bands.

5. Do not pack silver with paper, especially newsprint. Modern paper is better then older paper, but it can still contain sulfur or other oxidants.

6. Use cotton gloves on your hands when handling clean silver, especially if you are about to put it away in the zip bag. Your skin oils can tarnish the silver.

7. If you have to polish silver - go gently. On heavily tarnished pieces I use Wright's Silver Polish, on less heavily tarnished pieces I favor Wright's Silver Cream, and for the regular cleaning of pieces which I use regularly or semi-regularly, I like the very gentle Hagerty's Silver Wash. The Hagerty's is used wet, with a sponge, when you are washing up an item. It gently removes only the most superficial flush of yellowing, but if you follow my storage suggestions above, that is all you should ever have to deal with. To polish pieces I use only 100% cotton rags -- and I cut off all of the seams, because even on a 100% cotton T-shirt the seams usually contain polyester threads, which can scratch. I do not use microfiber cloths on silver unless the cotton really isn't working to remove deep tarnish - and if without removing the tarnish the piece can't be used. Microfiber cloths are fairly abrasive (they will leave a swirl pattern you can see in a raking light.) But a buffing with a microfiber cloth will often clean off the most stubborn tarnish.

I hope these suggestions will encourage to get out your silver and silver plate and use it. Especially for a big party or holiday dinner, nothing looks quite as festive. I love laying out a buffet on my silver plate dishes and platters. If you don't have any silver or silver plate, you are in luck, because there is lots and lots of it available. The silver is pretty expensive these days - but when you factor in the fact that you are actually buying silver, you often are not paying much for the skill and effort that went into making the object. Silver plate is generally very inexpensive, especially vintage. There is lots of it around, at antique shops and even charity shops. You can usually buy enough for a buffet party for a lot less than it would cost to set yourself up with a plastic or glass buffet service at The Crate and Barrel.

Of course, I have a lovely selection of silver plate at The Vintage Cookie in Eclectic Nature (1503 Mount Vernon Ave, Alexandria, VA). I also sell big zip bags and activated charcoal sachets, for protecting your silver plate at home.

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