There is something incredibly special about a well thought out place setting, the first impression of a gathering and good meal to come. One way we love to add even more magic to our place settings at Hester & Cook is by using vintage silver-plate utensils – the patterns, lines, and beautiful weight all add to the dining experience. Many people are nervous to use these heirloom pieces every day, tucking them away for “special occasions” only. But at H&C, we believe there’s always a reason to celebrate, and with a little care, your silver-plate can make every day a little more celebratory.
What is Silver-plate?
“Silver-plate” refers to flatware that has a thin coating of silver over a different base metal, such as copper or steel. This base metal makes silver-plate heavier than traditional sterling silver, as well as being more durable. The only downside is that the silver coating can grow thinner over time, especially if your silver-plate isn’t properly cared for and maintained. Silver-plate rose in popularity over the more delicate sterling silver flatware in the 1850’s as a more affordable option for daily use. Because silver-plate can still tarnish, eventually, stainless steel flatware replaced it as a lower-maintenance option, especially with the rise of dishwashers in the home during the 1970’s. In its heyday, there were hundreds of silver-plate in circulation, ranging from minimal and geometric to floral and fabulous. Because we pick our vintage silver from several sources when antiquing, we have no problem mixing patterns–oftentimes it’s necessary with vintage!. As long as your pieces are similar in size and finish, they will blend seamlessly on the table, adding an eclectic charm and source of delight for your guests as they enjoy the different patterns and details at their personal setting.
Caring for Silver-plate
Silver-plate can absolutely become your everyday flatware with a little extra care. While hand-washing is preferred, silver-plate can go in the dishwasher, just by itself (the heat and other metals being present could cause some unfortunate chemical reactions, stripping the plating). Whether you’re hand washing or using the dishwasher, a gentler detergent is best, with no phosphates or chlorine (Mrs. Meyers and Dawn are two of our favorite, readily available options). Be sure to avoid any citrus scented detergents, since the acids can be too harsh for your flatware. If you’re not planning on washing your silver-plate immediately after use, be sure to remove any larger bits of food at least – anything too acidic, fatty, or sulphuric (like egg yolks) can cause your silver-plate to permanently stain!
For silver you’ll use daily, it’s perfectly fine to store it in a drawer as you would other flatware. Having a utensil organizer can be helpful long term to help prevent pieces from rubbing against each other and scratching the finish when the drawer is opened and closed For longer storage, a fabric lined box or felt bags help to prevent tarnishing of your pieces – just be sure to never use an airtight container. These containers can trap heat and moisture, speeding up the tarnishing process and even potentially causing irreparable damage. Make sure whatever container or bags you use have enough space that your pieces can sit comfortably – as with a drawer, clashing together can cause scratches, wearing down the silver coating more quickly. Make sure you never store your silver-plate with rubber bands or newspaper wrappings; both contain acids that can seriously corrode your pieces! Finally, store your pieces in a climate controlled space, rather than an attic or basement, as fluctuations in temperature and humidity can also speed up tarnishing.
What to do when your silver inevitably shows signs of wear and tarnish? Washing gently will remove most black spots, with more stubborn tarnishing requiring a proper polishing. We recommend polishing your silver-plate no more than twice a year to prolong the silver finish. Be sure to use a soft cloth and that your pieces are completely dry before storing again. For intricate designs and hard to reach places, cotton balls or swabs lightly soaked in polish will be most helpful for making your pieces shine.
We hope this encourages you to add a little more celebration to your days by using silver-plate – heirlooms are to be enjoyed, and with a little care, they can be enjoyed for years to come.