Christie’s silver department offers expert advice on the best ways to maintain the precious metal’s sparkle, from avoiding tarnish to going easy on the Brussels sprouts
1. Get storage right
A pair of silver water pitchers. Mark of Frederick Marquand, New York, circa 1830. Sold for $5,000 in the American Furniture, Folk Art and Silver sale on 22 January 2016 at Christie’s in New York
Silver should be stored wrapped in dry, acid-free tissue paper and placed inside cotton or Tarnprufe bags. It should not be kept near to or touching smoke, household paints, rubber, newspaper, wool, felt or velvet.
It is also advised that it should not be kept inside oak furniture due to the wood’s acidic nature. Silver that has been lacquered can be stored without special protection — although it might be sensible to cover each piece with acid-free tissue paper to protect from dust.
2. Tackle tarnish
A mid-century American silver three-piece tea and coffee service. Mark of Gorham Mfg. Co., Providence, 1956. Sold for $875 in Living with Art, 9-10 February 2016 at Christie’s in New York
Over time, tarnish can appear on silver items as a dull, grey or black film. Silver dip can be used to remove this coating. Contrary to the name, you should never submerge silver in silver dip, but should apply it with cotton wool, before drying pieces with a soft linen tea towel and then polishing with a silver cloth.
Try to avoid getting Silver Dip into hollow decorations — such as fruit or small figures — as they may prove difficult to rinse and then dry thoroughly. Silver polish provides a more long-term solution to tarnish removal as, unlike silver dip, it leaves a protective layer on the item’s surface. Don’t be tempted to use solutions designed for other materials, such as copper or brass.
3. For smaller items, use the right tools
A pair of silver salt cellars. Mark of Tiffany & Co. New York, circa 1890. Sold for $2,375 in the American Furniture, Folk Art and Silver sale on 22 January 2016 at Christie’s in New York
For small objects use a hog’s hair brush, not a toothbrush or household paintbrush, because these are too abrasive. If necessary, use a cotton bud: dip this into Silver Dip and work gently into crevices to remove the tarnish before rinsing and drying.
4. It is possible to clean too much
A silver soup tureen. Retail Mark of A.Schmidt & Son, probably New York, circa 1900. Sold for $15,000 in the American Furniture, Folk Art and Silver sale on 22 January 2016 at Christie’s in New York
Although it’s tempting to remove tarnish as soon as it appears, ideally silver should be cleaned as little as possible. The abrasive nature of polish can damage engraved decorations, as well as causing holes in embossed work or eroding the surface of Sheffield plate.
To avoid abrasion when cleaning, consider switching harsh polish for hot, soapy water, rinsing and then drying your silver before budding with a soft cloth specially made for silver — Goddard’s Long Term Silver Cloth is ideal. Silver should never, however, go in the dishwasher.
5. Dry — then dry again
A silver tea urn. Mark of Ball, Black & Co, New York, 1851-1876. Sold for $4,375 in the American Furniture, Folk Art and Silver sale on 22 January 2016 at Christie’s in New York
Silver that has been properly dried does not tarnish as easily. After removing damp from silver with a soft linen cloth, it should either be placed in a drying cabinet at 50-60°C for 15-30 minutes, or dried using a hair dryer kept at least 15cm away from the silver. However, do not use this method if the object has handles or other fittings of wood or ivory, since these could become damaged.
6. Handle with care
An assembled American silver flatware part service. Mark of Gorham Mfg. Co., Providence, late 19th/early 20th century. Sold for $2,500 in Living with Art, 9-10 February 2016 at Christie’s in New York
When cleaning silver, rest it on your hand, rather than on a hard work surface, and work gently in a circular motion. Wearing cotton gloves when handling silver is recommended, so as not to leave fingerprints, which contain potentially damaging acids.
Where silver is used as tableware, be aware that foods including eggs, Brussels sprouts, vinegar and salt all tarnish the material very quickly. It’s important to wash silver soon after it has come into contact with these.
Main photo at top: Ray Tang/REX/Shutterstock
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