Monday, December 28, 2009

Rediscovering the Luster

Most people who know me would be shocked to know that I actually own some real silver.  Dinner parties at my house have always been Dansk stoneware and flatware, while the silver sat in the china cabinet, usually without much sparkle.

I could no longer stand to walk past that china cabinet and see the blackened pieces visible on its shelves, so I determined to take away their tarnish today.

As I gathered things together last night for today’s polishing frenzy, I remembered a box of silver flatware given to my husband by Lil, one of Zelda’s sisters, at least 25 years ago.  Why she didn’t give it to her own family is beyond me, but she always did love David because he told her she was the best cook in the world, much to his mother’s chagrin.  I literally turned this house upside down looking for Lil’s silver, not because it had ever graced my table, but because I knew it was somewhere and probably needed to be polished.  I cursed the fact that my memory is no longer reliable.  But finally it all came back to me and I found it in a large plastic storage container near the bicycles.  (Note to self: Make room in the china cabinet.)

At first I opted to try a “natural” approach to cleaning silver that sounded all too easy.  I lined a Pyrex pan with aluminum foil and added salty warm water.  I was supposed to drop in whatever needed to be cleaned and pull it out in 3 minutes, shining with the tarnish completely removed.  Either mine was too far gone or this method doesn’t work because my husband’s blackened baby fork and spoon just sat there looking quite dark and ugly.

So I made a quick trip to the hardware store, where I bought two containers of dipping solution.  It smelled like rotten eggs, but seemed to do the trick on even the most stubborn pieces.  There was no warning about toxicity, so I’m hoping it was just a healthy bad smell.

It was so much fun to see all the pieces start to sparkle once again.  As for Lil’s silver, it was mostly not in a bad state, so I did just a few pieces to see how it would shine up.  And it did just that.

I’m now determined to give a dinner party, probably small because I have only a setting for 4 in my Norwegian porcelain.  I’ll pull out the polished silver and perhaps we’ll even drink our wine from silver goblets. 

I don’t feel bad for not using all this silver over the years.  I do feel bad for neglecting it and letting it get to such a sorry state before cleaning it up.

This whole exercise in restoring luster to something so tarnished just by immersing it in a solution made me wish there was a similar process I could periodically subject myself to, whereby my dark spots would be restored to a nice shine. 

That aside, it’s nice to tackle a project that can be done in a day, which so effectively shows the fruits of one’s labors!


Blogger Kristin said...

Great job! It looks gorgeous.

During college, I worked at a jewelry store and every November, a family would bring in their silver for cleaning. Generally, I got the task, and I didn't mind. (I actually enjoyed seeing the tarnish disappear.) I just wish it didn't come in with bits of pie and potato from the Thanksgiving a year past.

7:45 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

I love the idea of a dipping solution for ourselves! That's funny!

I used to polish my grandmother's silver when I visited her, but I must admit I'm happy now with my stainless!

9:51 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Kristin -- I was wondering if there was some place I could have taken the whole lot of it. But it was much more therapeutic to do it myself!

9:51 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Steve -- I'm really much more a stainless (translate --> practical) kind of person. But I admit it doesn't shine like the real thing.

BTW, It was your post about organizing Dave's CD's that inspired my project yesterday.

9:54 PM  
Blogger Rayna said...

That aluminum foil thing is bad for your silver, even when it works. I love silver and my favorite job was polishing it when my mother was having company. That pink silver polish was/is the best, as far as I am concerned.

Goodness, all this tidying you are doing just wears me out!

11:40 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

There's this nice man over by White Flint in an industrial park who runs a silver cleaning shop. He used to be on Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda, but lease, etc. The Post did a story on him a few years back. He has great machines and such that do this type of thing in a whiz...and he doesn't charge a small fortune. Chevy Chase Plating and Polishing. 12131 Nebel Street, Rockville, 301-230-7686

2:01 AM  
Blogger Terry said...

The variation on the aluminum foil baking soda dip that I have used and always works is to put the silver in a large aluminum disposable baking pan, sprinkle with baking soda and pour boiling water over it. It works too well for my taste, removing every little bit of tarnish, even in the patterns where it gives them some definition. I never knew it was bad for the silver. I also polish with toothpaste when I'm out of the pink polish. Seems to work quite well.

2:48 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Rayna -- I'm glad the aluminum foil thing didn't work if it's bad for the silver.

Don't worry. I'm taking a break from cleaning today!

Cube -- I will file that info away for the next time I get motivated to clean the silver. It's nice to have professional help when you need it, good help that is!

Terry -- I'd be curious to know how you feel about silver since we connected over Dansk Generation Blue/Brown Mist dishes!

7:59 AM  
Blogger Mary L. Tabor said...

The beauty, simplicity and earnest writing here moves me. I see here the search--and I think all of us who attempt to write are in the process of the deeply human search for meaning in our lives. Cynthia Ozick in a book of essays entitled Art and Ardor says and I paraphrase and quote her here: Some of us will say or believe in the tree instead of G-d, the woods instead of G-d, the poem or painting instead of G-d. But there is no instead of in this search. To find, to discover the ordinary—the wine on the table, the bread that we break with our hands and all that is in the world we can observe, see if we are looking—is to find the extraordinary. All we can really have in our lives are these ordinary, concrete and specific things we see and experience. To get to the extraordinary we must trust these.

Thank you, Barbara.


12:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a dumb question for all you silver people! I have some family silver which I never use and which needs polishing. Isn't the polish toxic? How does one render the silverware safe to use after polishing? Thanks!


12:17 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

F -
My two cents... Silver can actually be washed with (gentle, preferably phosphate-free) soap and water in between polishing and it's a really good idea to do it before using (and after the polish). Wash it by hand, don't use gloves and promptly dry it with a soft cloth. Wash it separately to protect the finish.

6:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks so much, Kristin!


10:29 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Mary -- This is simply a report on yet another ordinary thing that happened in my life. The only twist is the wish for a personal dip!

Anon -- Thanks for asking. (And Kristin -- Thanks for answering!) I fear I didn't do this exactly right. I plan to wash any of my newly polished silver before using it with food!

11:43 PM  
Blogger Merle Sneed said...

Hopefully it was an Ace Hardware.

10:06 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Merle -- I almost thought of consulting you about this since you are in the hardware business. It was a locally owned small neighborhood hardware store where the employees spoke English, were knowledgeable of their products, and showed me where to find everything.

3:41 PM  
Blogger Kellyann Brown said...

I love to polish silver, it's such an immediate reward sort of thing. Your silver looks gorgeous.

I love my silver. It one thing that Rez and I have collected together... a piece or two at a time of solid silver... now we have service for sixteen plus serving pieces. I have collected a serving spoon for each placesetting as well, because Persians like BIG spoons! The pattern we choose dates back to before the Civil War. I have some new pieces, but some really old pieces with other people's initials on them (Dr. R. doesn't particularily like that, but I dig it).

When I was an impressionable youth, I was on the board of a large charity in San Francisco as a youth board member. There was a tea at a sponsors house up in the hills of Berkeley in her very cool house (that had a strip of real grass growing in the house ...tres cool) and she served us with her silver. I asked her the history of her silver and she said that she inherited it and that she used it as her "everyday" set. I was impressed. That is what I aspire to someday... to use my silver as my "everyday" set! ::Laugh:::

7:34 PM  

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