At Geolat, we always want to educate our clients on how to care for their valuables! Antiques and estate jewelry retain their value when they’re properly maintained, and objects are more beautiful when they’re treated with care. This is especially true when it comes to silver. The excerpt below, from Lydia Darbyshire’s book, Antique Silver: The New Compact Guide and Identifier, offers timeless advice on caring for silver.
“One of the pleasures of silver is its patina, the beautiful luster that silver acquires with the passage of time and the acquisition of numerous minute scratches on its surface. Maintaining this luster has, however, been regarded as one of the drawbacks of owning silver.
Tarnish is a natural and inevitable process on sterling silver, and the time taken for silver to be affected depends on the amount of moisture and pollutants in the atmosphere. Regular cleaning and polishing will help to prevent tarnish and also restore the shine. Objects that are not on permanent display or that are not used regularly can be kept in tarnish-proof bags (which are available from silversmiths and from many department stores) or storage cupboards can be lined with tarnish-preventive material. Alternatively, silver can be wrapped in acid-free tissue paper and stored in tightly closed plastic bags. Do not, however, wrap silver in plastic film, because some brands will permanently discolor the silver.
Cleaning silver, which was once carried out by the household servants under the supervision of the butler, no longer requires the application of preparations containing pumice, chalk and ammonia. Foam polishes, which have no abrasive content, are normally applied with a sponge or, if the article is pierced or highly decorated, with a nail-or toothbrush, and then rinsed off. The silver should be dried immediately after rinsing to avoid streaking. These foams have the advantages that they can give effective results with little effort and they do not cause the build-up of polish that occurs with some products. Some polishes also contain non-toxic tarnish inhibitors, which keep silver clean for up to three months longer than similar products without inhibitors.
During the late 19th century, large and highly decorated pieces of silver were sometimes coated in lacquer, a mixture of varnish or shellac dissolved in alcohol. The lacquer protected the silver from the air and retarded the process of tarnishing. Unfortunately, this lacquer tended to turn yellow with age, dulling and greying the silver beneath.
Today, similar protection is in the form of cellulose or silicone coating, which gives a good finish that only requires wiping over to restore the gleam. However, a reliable firm should carry out applying this protective process. If it is sprayed on, any tiny pinholes that are left in the coating will allow the air to penetrate beneath and tarnish the silver, and the lacquer will have to be removed professionally. An alternative is a form of coating that can be baked on, but this is not suitable for items that have solder points or a soft base metal, which will melt during the baking process.”