The right way to store antique silverware
You may have inherited antique silverware as an heirloom or be an avid collector. Regardless, you will want to ensure looks its best for as long as possible, preserving its beauty. The key to doing this is to store you a silverware correctly — but doing so can be difficult. To help, AC Silver — antique silverware specialists — has created the following guide to storing antique silverware:
How does antique silverware tarnish?
Vulnerable to chemicals in air, food and water, silver is a notoriously difficult metal to maintain. Silver sulphide is the chemical term for tarnish, which is the yellowish colouring (light tarnishing) or black film (heavy tarnishing) that you can see on silver that hasn’t been protected or polished. Although not difficult to remove, tarnish can’t be washed off with water and soap, so it’s worth investing time into protecting your silver during storage to save frequent cleaning.
Research from the Victoria and Albert Museum has shown that damp silverware tarnishes more quickly than dry silver items — making airtight containers and optimum humidity levels essential. So, avoid putting these items in a damp cellar or stuffy attic. To store your silverware safely, it’s often best to use an airtight container and place it somewhere in your home that is safe from oxygen and external pollutants that cause the production of silver sulphide. For example, opt for a cool, protected place — such as a sideboard or drawer in your spare room — away from windows.
Damage can still happen to silverware even when it’s in the safety of a cupboard or drawer. If it’s not stored correctly, your silverware can rub or bash together and cause damage. Pure silver is soft, which means each piece can easily scratch and dent each other, if not kept apart during storage.
When polishing your silverware, always wear gloves and use a soft cloth. This will ensure your silverware is protected.
How to store your antique silverware
Sulphur-emitting containers should be avoided, as advised in English Heritage’s Guidelines for the Storage and Display of Archaeological Metalwork.
When storing your silverware, consider the following to prevent damage and tarnishing:
- Acid-free tissue paper and sealed polythene bags: make sure you squeeze the air out before sealing and add silica gel to absorb any excess moisture.
- Airtight chests or boxes: able to keep humid air and oxygen away to protect silver collections from tarnishing. However, this can take up a lot of space and, if you accidentally choose an airtight container made from a harmful material, you will trap the problem inside with your silverware.
- Anti-tarnish bags: available in a range of sizes and ideal for smaller silverware items. But avoid plastic bags — these will trap moisture and expediate the tarnishing process.
- Cloth rolls: a compact way to safely store silver items individually, especially cutlery. However, this method leaves silver exposed to the air and you must make sure that the fabric isn’t harmful to silver.
Always keep each piece of silverware apart to avoid scratching. This means getting a storage box that has separate shelves and grooves (e.g. to keep cutlery isolated) or using individual bags, cloth rolls and tissue paper for each piece of silver and placing these slightly apart in their storage compartment (i.e. not stacked on top of each other).
Showing off your antique silverware
If you don’t want to tuck your silverware out of sight, why not put it on display for all to see? There are some beautiful, glass-doored display cabinets available to store your silverware in an attractive fashion — after all, part of the enjoyment of antique silverware is its ornamental characteristic!
Use silica gels, chalk and anti-tarnish strips in the container to control the humidity around your silverware and absorb harmful gases. Also, you can buy microcrystalline wax polish to use on the silverware items that you wish to display to help protect them from humidity, dust and pollutants. Precious items stored in places such as the British Museum and Tower of London also use this type of wax to help preserve important artefacts!
Storing silverware: materials to avoid
It is also advised that the following items are not used when storing your silverware, as they can have an adverse effect:
- Rubber (i.e. rubber bands).
- Anything polysulfide-based or containing pyrite and rubber.
- Stained or treated wood.
Treated wood contains chemicals that can make silverware tarnish more quickly, while the newspaper ink can lead to corrosion. However, you can avoid this by using anti-tarnish bags, acid-free tissue and untreated wood coated with anti-tarnish lacquer.
This guide should help you safeguard your silverware against damage and tarnishing when in storage. Remember to decide whether you want to store or show your antique silverware, and then take steps from there to ensure your precious items maintain their beauty and value.
Please note, this is a collaborated post. I hope you’ve found it helpful. Thanks for reading.