A Not-So-Sparkly Holiday Tradition

by Sara Weissman, MCHS Volunteer
November 29, 2021

For many, the approaching holidays bring the continuing tradition of family silver gracing the dinner table. Even at Acorn Hall, the holidays typically mark the return of Crane-Hone family silver to the dining room. It also allows the opportunity to determine what care may be needed after a year squirreled away.

Properly stored silver does not have to be polished every time it emerges from hiding, in fact should not be, if possible. Electroplated designs, particularly, can become worn with too much scrubbing, which is frowned on by appraisers. Delay tarnishing by storing silver in silver cloth bags or lined cases or in tight display cases with scavenger strips. The cloth and strips are impregnated with very fine silver particulates which grab atmospheric sulfur before it gets to the silver to start the tarnish process. First wash your silver (don’t submerge knife handles) in mild, non-citrus detergent and water. Rinse, dry and inspect. Some spots might want a polish and rewash. Know your water: if it is too hard or too soft, a final rinse in distilled water might be best to avoid streaking or spotting.

Crane family recipe for cleaning silver.

What polish to use, when it’s time? Major museums make theirs out of pharmaceutical-grade calcium carbonate and distilled water. The rest of us should employ the lowest impact polishes with as few ingredients as possible. As of 2021, Twinkle is the mildest, Gorham the next. Hagertys and Wrights are effective, but both have some ammonia which is not desirable. However, as formulations change over time what mother or grandmother used may not still be best. Use the polish that allows the least rub and scrub. For tough tarnish cleaning our go-to is TownTalk (UK), polish or cleaning cloths.

With proper care and storage, heirloom silver pieces can be enjoyed for generations. At Acorn Hall, family pieces from as early as 1820 are still held within MCHS collections. Care, as they say in medicine, lies in “do no harm.”

Helpful hints:

Boston Museum of Fine Arts abrasives chart: http://cameo.mfa.org/images/2/25/Download_file_177.pdf

For non-food silver (trays, display pieces, etc) a light wipe down with rubbing alcohol after polishing adds a nice shine.

Some late 19th-century silver-plate, particularly from the Meriden, CT companies, ages to a dull grey. Talk to a jeweler about professional cleaning if the item is important to your family.

Check your silvercloth as you put things away. Eventually it gets tired (very old cloth will feel greasy), no longer absorbs particles and needs to be replaced. The use of scavenger strips in weary silver cases can extend their use as storage boxes.

Identify makers’ marks: http://www.925-1000.com

Find the patent for your silver pattern: http://www.google.com/patents