August 15, 2022

Antique and vintage silver flatware can add elegance and refinement to dinner parties, afternoon tea, and special occasions. Silver flatware was meant to be used, and you don’t need to be scared about using it.

Caring for antique or vintage silver isn’t as hard as it may seem, and with the right care, you’ll be able to use silver flatware without worrying about tarnishing or damaging it. Silver can stay beautiful for years with the right care.

Maintenance: Where and How to Store Silver

The first step to keeping silver flatware in excellent condition is to make sure it’s properly stored. Silver is best stored in silver cloth, a cloth that has been treated to prevent tarnishing by protecting silver objects from gases in the air. Silver cloth is designed to react with the air before it affects your silverware. This helps minimize how often you have to clean your flatware and remove tarnish. You may also want to use drawer liners to limit exposure to air. However, silver cloth does become less effective over time and may not be the most cost-effective storage method.

A flatware storage chest is another effective way to protect your flatware and sets from tarnishing and sunlight. The downside is that a chest prevents you from putting the set on display.

Silver can also be stored in sealed plastic, but it’s important to wrap the pieces in acid-free tissue paper first. This will help protect it from scratching, which sealed plastic won’t prevent on its own.

It also makes sense to keep sterling silver and silver-plated items out of direct sunlight. Direct exposure to sunlight can result in a chemical reaction that creates silver chloride, which begins as a white residue and turns into blue-gray tarnish over time.

How to Clean Vintage Silver Flatware

There are several ways to clean silver and silver-plated items. These are the steps to follow if you’re cleaning flatware that you are just taking out of storage:

Dust: Using a cotton cloth or a soft-bristled brush, gently dust the flatware. Dust can scratch the silver while you clean it if you don’t remove it first.

Wash in warm water: The simplest way to clean silver is to wash it in warm water with gentle dishwashing soap. Don’t let the silver soak in water at all. Rinse with clean water quickly and dry it with a lint-free cloth.

Polish:Before you polish, wear plastic gloves. Do not use rubber, as rubber can react with silver. Next, place flatware on a soft towel. Using a cotton cloth or sponge, apply a non-abrasive silver cleaner or polish. Apply it in a circular motion. You can use a cotton swab for harder-to-reach places. Stop once you get a shine, even if you still see tarnish residue on the cloth, as this process can remove silver.

Wash again:Once polishing is done, wash in the same way and dry with a lint-free cloth. Handwashing silver is always the better option.

Dip and Electrolytic Cleaning Styles

Cleaning silver with a dip can be a risky way to clean your flatware, especially if you have a hard-to-replace antique or vintage set. A dip works by dissolving tarnish at a rapid rate, but submerging pieces can remove the patina. The loss of the patina is irreversible and can lead to even faster tarnishing.

Electrochemical cleaning likewise can strip the patina and leave silver flatware looking just like stainless steel. Unless you want your flatware to lose its lustre and value, you’re better off sticking to the old-fashioned way of handwashing and polishing.

A vintage silver teapot

Cleaning Silver Flatware That You Use

While some prefer to keep their silver collection for display only, others like to use the flatware for special occasions, such as holidays or dinner parties. Silver flatware was meant to be used. If you use flatware but want to make sure it remains in good condition, the key is to clean it immediately after use.

This is particularly true when used with foods like mustard, eggs, mayonnaise, vinegar, and salt, which all contain sulphur. Sulphur tarnishes silver, and while silver tarnish can be removed, cleaning is intensive. Repeated cleaning can also lead to the loss of silver.

In addition to flatware, silver candlesticks are also a beautiful addition to your home, and using them can be a pleasure. To remove candle wax, simply run the wax under hot water. Once the heat softens the wax, you can pry the wax off with your finger. It is better not to risk scratching the silver with a knife or other tools.

How to Restore Silver Naturally

If you want to use the dip method but would prefer a more natural solution, you still have options to restore even heavily-tarnished silver. One way to clean silver naturally is to use a homemade solution that you can probably put together with supplies you already have in your home.

There are four things you will need: aluminum foil, baking soda, salt, and a soft, clean cloth. First, line a pot with aluminum foil, covering the entire surface. Fill the pot with boiling water and add both baking soda and salt. Place your silver into the solution and let sit for five minutes or longer, and then dry.

This method effectively replicates an electrolytic cleaning process but with natural products. A chemical reaction removes tarnish, which can be great for heavily-tarnished pieces that would take a lot of effort to restore if you were cleaning them by hand.

What Kind of Antique Silver Is Valuable?

Certain antiques and collectibles may be more valuable than the silver content alone. These pieces may be best kept in storage if you want to sell them for a top price later.

Antiques and collectibles derive their value from their desirability. Is there someone who will be interested in a certain piece, and how much are they willing to pay for it? The silver content will give the piece an intrinsic value, but anything beyond the metal value will be based on the rarity, desirability, and condition of the set.

Antique vs. Vintage: What’s the Difference?

Best practices for maintaining and cleaning silver are the same no matter its age. If you want to preserve silver’s value, store it somewhere that it will be protected from contamination, both in the air and from contact.

But if you’re wondering what your silverware is worth, the difference between antique and vintage may make a difference.

As a general rule, objects qualify as antique once they are about 100 years old or more, while vintage is newer, though usually at least 20 years old.

The age of the piece does not necessarily affect its value but rather its rarity and desirability. Antiques that are in great condition may have a higher value because of their story or because fewer pieces like them have survived in such great condition.

At the same time, the right vintage silver could also command a higher price because of the manufacturer, the designer, the story, or other factors.

If you are keen on finding collectible items in your home, it helps to know their age, manufacturer, the quantity of silver used, and whether they have any historical stories attached to them.

A set of antique flatware on a cloth on a wood table

How to Sell Antique and Vintage Silver

Have you inherited an antique or vintage set of silver flatware or a silver tea service that you have no intention of using? Or are you ready to part ways with a set because you’ve recently found a new one and you’re looking to make space in your home?

At Muzeum, we can help you with selling antiques and collectibles by offering the best prices for silver available. We’re experts in the precious metals and collectibles market, and we can find the best destination for vintage silver. Sets that can be resold to a collector may fetch a better price than sets that are in poor condition or don’t have much of a market. However, even those sets have value thanks to their precious metal content.

Before you bring your silver to Muzeum, check for a hallmark that should have been printed on the piece by the manufacturer. The hallmark should tell you what percentage of metal in the piece is actually silver. Silver is typically alloyed with other metals to make it more durable and less prone to dents, as the metal in its pure form is quite soft.

Hallmarks are often expressed in decimals or points per thousand. Common silver markings include:

  • .500 (50% pure)
  • .800 (80% pure)
  • Sterling/Ster/.925 (92.5% pure)
  • EP (Electroplated)
  • EPNS (Electroplated Nickel Silver)

If you know both the weight and precious metal content of a piece, you can put together an estimate of what you might be able to get when you sell it by looking up our rates. Muzeum updates our daily rates, and you can look up our prices for bullion coins and bars as well as Sterling silver and .800 or .500 pieces. Our rates are based on the spot price of silver.

Should You Clean Silver Flatware Before You Sell?

When it comes time to sell silver, many wonder if they should clean or polish it beforehand to increase its value. Usually, you do not need to clean silver before you sell it, and there are some cases where it’s advisable not to clean the silver at all.

Some cleaning methods can wind up removing the patina that gives a silver piece interest and value. Antique and vintage buyers want pieces that show their age.

How you choose to clean antique and vintage silver flatware should depend on what you want to do with it. If you plan to resell it at any point down the line, or if you want it to stand the test of time and pass it down to a family member, you may want to stick to gentle handwashing with warm water and dish soap. Other methods of removing tarnish can remove the patina which is part of what makes older flatware sets valuable.

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