Care of Silver

Sterling Silver has been used as a method of currency, a tool for adornment, and an aid in manufacturing. In present day, it is still traded as a commodity on the stock market, and its material value fluctuates throughout the course of the day. One common thread through history is that silver carries with it the title of wealth, value, prestige, beauty and purity. Sterling silver, thought of by some as "pure silver", is actually a metal alloy, containing 92.5% silver, and 7.5% copper. The addition of copper to the metal adds excellent strength and durability, without greatly affecting the luster or color of the silver. Different cultures have developed their own formulas for sterling silver. Older European and American pieces could also be made of coin silver, which was slightly less pure, generally 80% silver, while Sterling articles made in South America, could be as high as 95% silver. American made items that are sterling silver will be clearly marked on the bottom of the piece with the word "STERLING", the number "925" "800" or "950". Other countries have developed alternate ways of indicating the silver content of a piece, and reference materials for that region should be used to identify whether and item is sterling or silver plated. Several common problems sterling silver owners have are deep scratches, dings or dents, black or green spots caused by salt corrosion, and broken ivory or ebony insulators on Tea and Coffee Pots. All of these problems can be addresses and corrected by the Master silversmiths at Zapffe. The surface of Sterling silver can be cleaned and refinished removing years of tarnish and scratches, dents can be removed and pieces soldered. New ivory insulators can be carved to fit the specific handle to your Tea pot or Coffee pot by an affiliate sanctioned by the US government to recreate historical items composed of Ivory. Whatever the damage, you can be rest assured that the craftsmen at Zapffe posses the talent and craft to restore your valued item.

Care of silver
Proper cleaning and polishing techniques: When silver tarnishes, always use a liquid or Cream polish such as the products manufactured by Hagerty or Cape Cod. They are non-abrasive and will not harm the silver. The Hagerty cleaners also contain R-22 which is a tarnish preventative ingredient to help keep your silver shining longer. Silverware dips and chlorine bleach solutions should not be used to clean and polish your silver. These types of products can cause heavy staining or spotting on the surface of your item which will require a professional refinishing or replating. Over time, the silver will also begin to take on a flat yellow look which will need to be buffed in order to bring back the luster. A quick fix that should also be avoided is placing silver in an aluminum pan with baking soda. This has also been known to lead to heavy staining and spotting. See example pictured below:

candlabra-before-cleaning-thumb.jpg  candlabra-after-cleaning

Silver Tarnish Prevention
Silver, due to its molecular make-up, will always tarnish when exposed to air because or the presence of sulfur. The best way to combat tarnish will depend on how you decide to store it. If you are displaying your silver in an enclosed curio cabinet or hutch, the use of Hagerty's silver protection strips or Camphor gum blocks will help neutralize sulphur in the environment, and ultimately slow the tarnishing process significantly. Silver that will be stored in a safe, closet or attic can be wrapped up in acid free tissue paper or pacific silver cloth to keep it tarnish free and protected from scratches. Silver should never be stored in plastic wrap or newsprint. Both are petroleum by products that over time will stain the surface of the metal causing it to need refinishing or resilvering.

Silver Damage prevention:
After a silver item has been used for food service, it should be thoroughly cleaned in a mixture of warm water and baking soda to neutralize any acids or salts in the food, then hand washed with a mild detergent and completely dried.

When fitting candles into cups of candelabras, always add support to the arm by resting the bottom of the arm on the edge of a table. Avoid twisting or handling a candelabra soon after a candle has been burning in it to prevent damage to the reinforcing material inside the candelabra.

One of our most common maintenance questions from our clients is whether or not they can safely put their flatware in the dishwasher. Our advice on this matter is NO. There are a number of reasons you should not place your flatware in the dishwasher. The first reason is that almost all dishwashing detergents on the market contain either phosphates, ammonia, jet dry or bleach in order to reduce the appearance of water spots at the end of the cycle. These harsh chemicals can lead to black chemical spots that must be professionally refinished off the surface of the metal. These chemicals will also begin to dull the luster of your flatware, making it flat and chalky. A vigorous hand polish will be needed to bring the shine back, making it more time consuming in the long run to place the items in the dishwasher as opposed to hand washing them. The second reason dishwashing should be avoided is the high temperatures of the wash and dry cycles can cause the knife blades to separate from the handles, or cause the handles to split open at the seams. Knife blades are set into the handles with a tar like substance that expands when it gets heated creating high pressure inside the handle. In order for the pressure to escape, the blade must lift, or the seam must split.

Sterling Silver & Silver Plated Silverware.
Many people have inherited or collected sterling silverware or silver plated flatware sets that are in need of professional polishing or restoration, and do not know where to go for these services. Zapffe Silversmiths can refinish sterling silver flatware to like-new condition, removing years of tarnish, stains and surface scratches. Zapffe can also re-plate silver plated flatware to restore its function and beauty. Things such as disposal damage, broken tines, and separated knife blades can be reversed by our expert silversmiths. Zapffe can also replace carbon steel knife blades with high grade stainless steel from the worlds finest cutlery manufacturer of Sheffield England.

One of our most common maintenance questions from our clients is whether or not they can safely put their flatware in the dishwasher. Our advice on this matter is NO. There are a number of reasons you should not place your flatware in the dishwasher. The first reason is that almost all dishwashing detergents on the market contain either phosphates, ammonia, jet dry or bleach in order to reduce the appearance of water spots at the end of the cycle.

These harsh chemicals can lead to black chemical spots that must be professionally refinished off the surface of the metal. These chemicals will also begin to dull the luster of your flatware, making it flat and chalky. The second reason dishwashing should be avoided is that the high temperatures of the wash and dry cycles can cause the knife blades to separate from the handles, or cause the handles to split open at the seams. Knife blades are set into the handles with pitch, a substance that expands when it gets heated creating high pressure inside the handle thus resulting in the blade becoming unset. In order for the pressure to escape, the blade must lift, or the seam splits. This is a very common repair provided by Zapffe and easily avoided with the proper care when cleaning silver knives by simple hand washing with mild dish soap detergent.

Sheffield Silver
Before the rise of electro-plating, a method of bi-metal construction was used, commonly referred to as Sheffield plate. Thick sheets of copper were fused with thinner sheets of silver by a process of heat, pressure and a de-oxidizing agent such as borax, resulting in a metal "sandwich". Once the two sheets were fused, a silversmith was able to raise, form and chase the metal as they would a sheet of solid sterling silver. The result was a piece that was expertly constructed, but contained less expensive materials, making it a more affordable option in the mid 1700's through the early 1800's. Most Sheffield Plate items were given a hand applied tin lining to the interiors or bottoms of trays to protect from metal poisoning. Sheffield plate items should never be electro-plated, as this was not the original way the item was constructed; however, badly damaged or broken items can be repaired by a master silversmith without electro-plating the piece. When it comes to Sheffield plate, any repairs done should be thought of as conservation, as opposed to restoration.

Sheffield Plate has three basic characteristics that can help to identify it from silver plate or sterling silver.

The first characteristic is the borders or edges of the item will appear to have a seam or ridge that is slightly raised from the rest of the piece where two sections of metal meet. This is the result of the silversmith overlapping the two edges of the silver layer in order to hide the copper base metal.

The second characteristic is there will often be a sterling inlaid family crest or other engraved symbol on the piece. When looking at the immediate area around the engraving, Sheffield pieces will always show a tonal difference in the silver. This difference will either be in a circular, oval or rectangular shape, and will often appear lighter than the surrounding metal. Silversmiths inlaid the sterling section for engraving in order to prevent the engraver from cutting through the thin layer of silver and exposing the copper base metal.

The third defining characteristic is the presence of a hand applied tin finish on the interior of vessels and on the backs of serving trays. The tin layer will appear to be a dull, gunmetal grey color, and will not polish up when a silver polish is used. Silversmiths used tin to cover the copper base metal in finished pieces, and to create a barrier between the copper and food that was being served. Much like tin lined copper cookware, it is important to have a healthy tin layer present when using a piece to prevent copper poisoning.

Over the years Zapffe Silversmiths of Seattle has repaired thousands of Sheffield Plate pieces, taking great care in ensuring that nothing is done to the piece that would not have been done at the time of its construction.