My old dad and I didn't really get along that well, we didn't really know each other, but he did teach me one thing in life that I find quite handy. How to keep your silver shiny. I know, as a life lesson its not much to be going on, but at least I've got a blog post out of it.
He says, and he's not wrong, that silver tarnishes because of greasy fingers, to which I add fire smoke and general pollution As he's not one for ever cleaning the silver himself, and he had quite a bit of it, he must have had a trick to keeping it looking so pristine. And he did.
So let's start at the beginning as Mary Poppins may have said. Washing.
Fire smoke is rich in sulphurs. So is the general atmosphere, especially in cities. Bad. Many foodstuffs, flowers and other things can tarnish silver too. So anything silver that sits over a fireplace or is used for fruit, flowers food etc. should be regulalrly washed in warm (not piping hot) water using a good soap and well rinsed. If you dry it, then a) avoid handling the washed silver directly and b) use a clean soft cloth and do it without rubbing. Patting is good.
NB. Never wash silver with any other metal items: steel causes a reaction, and other metal is usually harder than silver and can scratch and dent.
Generally speaking, keep your sticky (or even your not sticky) mitts off silver. Use a cloth to pick it up. If you doubt me, then find a nice clean item and do your "I've just been arrested and they are taking my fingerprint" impression on a smooth bit. Come back a week or so later (depending on how polluted your air is, of course) and you will be able to see your fingerprint neatly picked out in tarnish.
The rate at which your silver tarnishes will depend on lots of things, from where you live to the aforementioned open fires and what use you put the item to. But generally the cleaner your air the longer silver will stay clean. But how do you get it looking pristine to start with? An old bit of silver is not going to ever look like it did when the silversmith first released it from his workshop. But if you have a piece that is not too damaged by years of pollution or overzealous abrading by strong polishes then you can get it looking lovely. Always use a specific polish designed for silver, not dips (think acid etching) and not general metal polishes (far too rough). Be gentle and take your time. Don't rub too hard: silver is soft and vigorous rubbing can lead to it going out of shape more easily than you might imagine. And try to rub in straight lines, not using a circular motion. My favourite is a non-abrasive foam. Mostly though, I suspect you will have to use a combination of approaches, especially if your piece is tarnished. And if you must use a brush, please use natural or very soft unnatural bristle. Not your old hard discarded toothbrush.
If you've ever seen a piece with worn hallmarks then you know they used the wrong polish too often and too vigorously. That is exactly what we're trying to avoid here.
Here's a pic of two mustard pots, one where the hallmark is not only rubbed, but also has been double stamped (it bounced: casual work by the stamper), and the one below where the mark has not been over rubbed and as a consequence is much clearer (even if embarrassingly full of old polish powder). The upper set in this pic won't take many more polishes before they are rendered totally illegible: the not infrequent fate of many.
OK so now you have nice clean dry polished silver. As I said before, try to avoid making skin contact with the metal: use a glove or cloth to pick it up. Once its in place, and this is dad's trick and he had the shiniest best-kept silver I ever saw, use a good quality feather duster and deploy it on silver cleaning manouevres every day. It takes only a few moments, but the results will be a much longer lasting shine. If your problem is atmospheric pollution then, with luck, another wash should bring the shine back, provided there is no grease-derived tarnish to the surface.
Other things you should never let touch silver are cling film, newspaper, aluminium foil or anything rubber, especially rubber bands. They are a massive no no. If you are storing your silver or, ahem, bringing it to me, then please use tissue paper (acid-free if it is going to be in it for a while) and a good box, and if you must pad it, use towels or rags, not newspaper or bubble wrap.
For a tweet from the Pitt Rivers Museum on newspaper wrapped silver - Click Here
My overall tip is to be gentle with silver. Sterling is 92.5% silver, which is very a soft metal, and easily bent, dented, scratched and generally ruined. So please: maximum TLC
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