One of the most alarming trends that I've seen over the last few years is a move to discard gorgeous old pieces of silver and silverware sets in favor of stainless steel and treated silverplate. I'm told over and over again that it's because silver is such a pain to clean and for today's brides totally impractical. I've got to say that I don't agree and I think that it's quite sad, because sterling silver flatware can be passed down from generation to generation lending a gorgeous richness and history to your table that contemporary stainless just can't match.
Old silver comes with gorgeous monogramming and so many of the patterns aren't produced anymore that if your set is over 40 years old it's probably gorgeous and far heavier than anything produced today. I've rescued many a gorgeous set of silver from the clutches of a bride who wanted me to remove all of the monograms. The young lady would arrive thinking that she wanted all of those beautiful initials and flourishes gone, but once I was able to show her the richness of what they brought to her table she became smitten with all of the beautiful possibilities!
I happily inherited my mothers sterling which is a set of antique Hepplewhite, resplendent with all of the monogramming from her mother and her grandmother. I mix this very simple pattern with the sterling that I received when I was married, a lovely pattern by Reed and Barton called 18th Century that is a bit more ornate. I mix all of this sterling with several sets of dishes, my mothers lovely white and gold set of antique Haviland and a stunning set of Coalport Indian Tree Rust. I set the whole thing on top of gorgeous gold service plates and hand cut Baccarat wine and water glasses and I use a simple crystal champagne flute if the meal calls for one. You'd never look at my table and think to yourself , "Wow..doesn't she know that none of that is matched?" The effect is absolutely stunning, sophisticated and easy to accomplish as long as you're willing to think a bit outside of the box!
Keeping sterling silver and fine silverplate lovely just requires a bit of thought and not as much effort as you'd think. Gone are the days where the only option that you had for polishing was a caustic silver polish, there are silver foams to use and my absolute favorite thing for polishing silver are polishing gloves. If you've never used silver polishing gloves you're in for a treat, because they make cleaning your fine silver a breeze and there's no nasty smell. All you do is put them on and rub...no water necessary. You'll want to wash each piece if you're going to use it to serve food, but until then it's not necessary.
We had walls of antique silver , Hotel silver and sterling at Schreibman's and this was how we kept it sparkling and it took a fraction of the time. The best silver polishing gloves come from the silversmiths at Christofle as do the finest polishing products. Christofle products are indeed more expensive, but in the area of fine silver care you do get what you pay for. Silver is an organic material and can be easily burned and destroyed. It pays to use the best products that you can find and please, unless you buy it from a reputable company such as this one or Cape Cod Silver Polish, don't ever use any of the products that claim to be fine silver dips. I have seen more precious silver destroyed by these products, at first use it seems like a miracle but then over time the silver turns yellow and there's nothing to be done about it.
If you're environmentally sensitive you can try fine olive oil and a cloth to clean your silver if it's not too tarnished and /or Toms of Maine toothpaste. I polish my silver about every third time with one of these products because I don't like my silver to be too shiny and I WANT to accentuate it's age. Over a period of time fine silver will take on what's known as a patina, which is actually a very fine web of scratches. You want this, as it's what gives fine silver it's soft glow over time and why old American silver always looks so pretty and inviting.
If you need to store your fine silver for any length of time consider investing in what is known as treated silver cloth by the yard. At about 16 to 22 dollars per yard, this is one of the best investments that you'll ever make to care for your silver. You can use this product to line a hutch as a dear friend of mine is doing right now or you can simply buy it and cut it to fit each piece and wrap it loosely around.
Don't ever make the mistake of wrapping your silver in plastic baggies or Saran because you will run the chance of destroying it beyond repair. The two materials simply don't like each other and can produce an alchemical response similar to corrosion. Avoid securing any thing around your silver with a rubber band...same thing! It's okay to use newsprint for a short period of time but optimally you want to store silver in a almost air tight space with this treated cloth. I have sterling that I haven't polished in over 15 years that is kept this way. I take it out and wash it when I use it and when I'm done it goes back into my silver chest. You can find a wide assortment of this cloth at The Sterling Buffet and my old friends at Reed and Barton tell me that this IS the place to go for fine silver care options!
Write me and let me know what you're doing with any of the old silver that you own! Are you using it? Are you missing pieces to it but don't know what it is? I'm happy to help you rediscover the treasures that may be lurking in boxes in your attic! Fine old silver should be treasured for it's past and the beauty that it can bring into our lives and as things do come around again with time I've noticed that many of my sons friends are rediscovering with an appreciative eye the silver that I love to use.
Remember that although they don't know it now, there may come a time when your children crave this piece of their past. I've seen this happen frequently and sadly once it's gone its gone. It's so easy to store silver properly so it will be there for your grandchildren when they discover that they actually want it and imagine the joy that you will feel upon delivering such a precious gift , a treasure steeped in the rich and shared history of family.