Tabletop Ideas
Apr 23, 2009

The return of heirloom silverware

By: Shelagh McNally

The return of heirloom silverware Author: Style At Home

Tabletop Ideas
Apr 23, 2009

The return of heirloom silverware

By: Shelagh McNally

Heirloom silverware is making a comeback for the dinner table, but in a more relaxed way than yesteryear. Not long ago sterling silver was de rigueur at any proper table. A hostess would shine up her forks, knives and spoons to accompany the fine china, linens and crystal used to set her table.
 
From 1870 to 1920, when silver was at the height of its popularity, table settings could have upwards of 100 pieces, including serving utensils, gravy ladles, napkin rings, candlesticks, and of course, the silver tea set.

Quick and easy elegance
As we became busier and our entertaining less elaborate, our silverware gradually disappeared from the table. Many of us have had sets handed down to us, but they almost seem too precious to use these days. However décor experts are encouraging us to reintroduce heirloom silver as a way to personalize your table.

“Nothing says elegance like a splash of silverware, says Lena Maher, owner of Celtic Cooking, a catering and event planning company in Montreal. You only need a few key pieces to make your table stand out and there are so many lovely patterns to choose from that you’re sure to find one that suits your style, she says.

Using heirloom silverware as more of a showcase piece also solves the problem of finding matching silver sets—which are rare and therefore quite expensive. “Don’t be afraid to mix and match designs,” says Maher. “That old taboo of having everything matching is mostly ignored these days. It’s perfectly acceptable and can really add some flair to your table to offset different eras and patterns.”

Maher recommends using larger pieces, such as candlesticks, vases or serving trays, for centrepieces and smaller pieces, such as cutlery, salt and pepper shakers or napkin rings, as accents. “It’s all about expressing yourself, so have fun with it,” she says.

Spotting real silverware and how to tell if it’s a fake

Of course, you need to make sure the piece you are buying is sterling silver and not a cheaper metal version that is only silver-plated. Look for a 925 stamp (also known as a hallmark) on the bottom. If the piece doesn’t have the mark, it’s not sterling silver.  

Spot the fakes by paying attention to colour. Anything silver-plated will be extremely shiny with a cold, white glow. Real silver has a warmer glow with a slight golden hue. Chips or silver worn away are two other telltale signs of a the cheaper silver-plating.Keeping it shiny
Don’t let tarnish turn you off from silver. You can pick up some real bargains at flea markets and estate sales with tarnished pieces. Underneath it all there may be a rare gem and even if you can’t restore it to its former glory, you’ll have a conversation piece for your table.

Because all silver reacts to the sulphur in the air, it should be stored away when not in use. Regular cleaning is a must, but it’s not that complicated—elbow grease gets the job done. You can go the quick, but toxic route with high-quality commercial polish—however there are growing concerns over the residue chemicals getting into our food.

Fortunately there are all-natural cleaners that can be made from everyday ingredients. Some people swear by toothpaste used as a paste. The danger is that you may scratch the silver. The most tried and true recipes use baking soda either as a paste or a solution.

To learn more about silverware patterns visit the Antique Cupboard or Nancy Silver.

Recipes for cleaning silverware
Baking soda paste:
  • Add enough water to the baking soda to make a paste.
  • Use a natural bristle toothbrush, not plastic (it will scratch the silver).
  • Rub the paste all over the silverware.
  • Let it dry, rinse and then polish with a soft cloth. The key is to rinse and dry.

Baking soda solution:
  • Fill an aluminium pan or a pan lined with aluminium foil with four cups of hot water.
  • Dissolve one teaspoon of baking soda and one teaspoon of salt into the water.
  • Submerge the silver into the solution and let it sit for five to six minutes.
  • Rinse the item well and polish with a soft cloth.
Note: This cleaning method will remove a desirable patina (dark crevices in a pattern) and may cause pitting. For silver with a patina, you may have to use a high-quality commercial polish. Look for the less toxic brands on the market.
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Tabletop Ideas

The return of heirloom silverware