Monday, May 16, 2005

Display Antique Silver

Antique sterling silver and silverplate hollowwares can add beauty and elegance to a table buffet or your home. But isn't proper caring for silver items like candlesticks, serving trays and silver tea sets difficult and time consuming?

Antique silver pieces were meant to be used and enjoyed! With regular and proper care, most silver pieces will stay beautiful for years and years. The most common culprit of silver is tarnish caused by humidity. The ideal level of humidity for storing and displaying silver, according to Caring for Collectibles by Ken Arnold, is 45% to 50%. Since your home is not a museum, it won't always be possible to maintain a constant humidity level, but making an effort to keep your silver out of unusually damp environments will certainly help cut down on tarnish.

Avoiding excessive tarnish buildup in the first place is a good idea. This makes cleaning occasionally much easier. However, over-polishing silver can wear down the silver finish, especially on silverplated pieces, so take care not to overdo it.

When removing tarnish, use a clean cotton cloth to dust the item as a first step. This is important since dust can scratch the finish if not removed before cleaning.

Candle wax can be removed from a silver holder by simply running hot water over the area holding the wax. The softened wax should be easy to pry out with a finger. Never risk scratching the piece by using a knife or other sharp metal tool.

Once all dust and wax are removed, wash the item by hand with warm water and a gentle dishwashing soap to remove any dirt, dust and food, but don't soak the silver in water for any length of time.

Rinse your silver well with clean water, distilled is best, and dry immediately with a soft, lint-free cloth. A hair-dryer set on warm helps to dry hard-to-reach places.

Wearing plastic gloves rather than rubber (rubber will react with the silver) lay the item on a soft towel on a stable work surface. Use a soft cotton cloth or jewelry sponge and a good non-abrasive commercial silver cleaner or polish. Goddard's, Gorham's or Wright's as recommended. Some people find foams and liquids easier to manage than pastes, but it's really a matter of personal preference.

Apply the polish in a gentle circular motion. For intricate areas, use a cotton-tipped swab to apply the cleaner. Make sure all polish is removed when you're finished, using additional cotton swabs if needed. Once the silver piece looks clean and shiny, stop polishing even if you're still seeing dark residue on your cloth.

Wash the piece again and dry with a lint-free cloth. Items not used for food consumption can be waxed with a thin coat of microcrystalline wax to protect against tarnishing, if desired. Never lacquer your silver piece! It's best to store silver flatware in specially designed flatware chests or anti-tarnish bags.

After your silver is clean and completely dry, wrap pieces individually with acid-free, buffered tissue, or washed cotton, linen, or polyester to store. Do not use wool, felt, chamois leather or newspaper, which can cause tarnishing or even worse, remove plating. Wrapping silver pieces in specially made bags or silver cloths designed to deter tarnish make good storage choices as well.

If you'd like to display your silver rather than storing it, a glass-enclosed cabinet makes a good choice. And if you use glass shelves, make sure they're sturdy enough to hold heavier pieces.

Desiccant packets can be added to the cabinet help prevent tarnish, but don't let them actually touch the silver pieces. Special anti-tarnish papers and cloths containing activated carbon or silver salts can be placed in display cases as well. You can purchase these items from jewelers or department and specialty stores where new silver pieces are sold.

You'll want to avoid displaying or storing silver near cotton felt, wool or velvet as well. These fabrics contain sulfides that attack the metal. Direct sunlight doesn't actually cause tarnish, but it can accelerate the progression of the unattractive film, so place your silver display case away from sunny windows.

You'll also want to use white cotton gloves when handling silver if possible. The salts, oils and acids in your skin can cause corrosion. Arnold's book also mentions that fingerprints can even be etched into silver if left uncleaned for a long period of time.

So pull out that heirloom silver you have been hiding in the back of your buffet and start enjoying the beauty of your antique silver!