Caring for Your Antique Silver

Our fascination with silver can be traced back to ancient Greece and Turkey. In fact, evidence points to the mining of silver there as early as 3000.B.C., as reported by the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Pure silver isn’t suitable for making jewelry or silverware because it’s too soft. For this reason, items like that are generally made using sterling silver, which is an alloy containing 7.5% copper and 92.5% silver. However, other metals are occasionally used. Sterling silver products made in the 19th or 20th century were ordinarily marked with either the number “925” or the word “Sterling.”

If you enjoy collecting beautiful antique silver pieces or own precious antique silver items that have been passed down in your family for generations, you’ll want to care for your sterling silver carefully. The Victoria and Albert Museum offers advice for keeping your silver in top condition, whether it’s antique silverware, sterling candlesticks, or your great-grandmother’s sterling silver tea set.

1. To Clean Or Not To Clean.

Not every silver piece requires polishing. Be sure to check with silver dealers in your area for their recommendation, to avoid any damage to your cherished silver. For instance, silver with niello (a dark mixture that is worked into engraved portions of the silver) or with matte surface should not be polished. In the 1800s, it was popular to create an oxidized (darkened) finish on silver using chemicals. This can be easily be stripped away by polishing.

2. Take It Easy.

The cardinal rule when polishing silver is to be gentle. For silver items with a relief design, removing the tarnish completely causes the design to lose definition and leaves the item looking “lifeless.” In order to avoid this, stop regularly as you polish so you can observe the overall effect.

3. Cleaning.

Use white or methylated spirit to gently swab dirt and grease from the piece’s surface. If more tarnish is left on the object, rub a silver cloth gently over it. To reach small crevices or corners, use methylated spirit to moisten a small swatch of the silver cloth, then wrap the swab with it. The swab will enable you to and push the cloth into the area in question. In order to get rid of any residue, rub a swab that you’ve moistened with alcohol over the area. It may be necessary to try a mildly abrasive cream or paste if the piece is still tarnished. To do this, moisten a swab with distilled water, then add a bit of the cleaning product. Use circular motions to clean the area. Replace the swab with a new one every time it turns black. Finish by swabbing lightly with methylated spirit. If you plan to display the piece, you might consider rubbing it lightly using a dry, clean silver cloth, which is treated to inhibit tarnish. You can also use a special coating.

4. Cleaning Silver Gilt.

Tarnish can sometimes appear on a surface that is gilded if the gilding has fine cracks in it. You can use the same cleaning methods as you would for silver. However, remember that the layers of gilding are somewhat soft and quite thin. Therefore they could easily be cleaned away.

5. Think Before You Dip.

It’s tempting to use a short cut and use a silver dip to clean your favorite sterling vase. Before you do, be aware that dips work by a chemical reaction and have a tendency to overclean, leaving your silver with that “lifeless” look you want to avoid.

By employing these tips to care for your favorite silver pieces, you and your family will enjoy them for generations to come.

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