What To Do With Your Silver Plate
As a photographer I was totally attracted to my parents collection of Silver Plate. So much so I turned it into a photo project called Refections. You can see more of the group here. But as I worked on this project and kept finding more and more, I wondered if there were more houses like ours, brimming with Silver Plate that looks great on a shelf but is seldom used.
Silver Plate was invented as an affordable and more durable version of Sterling Silver and was very popular in the early 1900s. It comes in both flatware (utensils) and holloware (dishes) and was the de facto gift at weddings. Most people have a “good” set of flatware or a tea set that comes out on special occasions. My parents flatware set is even engraved with my mother’s initials as was the custom at the time. We also have inherited silver dishes from my grandparents generation with their initials. As a result, we have A LOT of Silver Plate. I happen to think it is stunning, but it also very high maintenance, requiring continual polishing and washing before use. Nowadays our flatware and serving dishes are made to be dishwasher friendly, perfect for the convenience obsessed generation that we are. Not many people want to take on the hassle of this shiny antique.
With that in mind I looked at all the Silver Plate in my parents house and wondered what are we going to do with it? Does it have a value? Can I sell it?
According to Ruby Lane, an online antique dealer, it depends. There are about 250 patterns of flatware that are collectables and have some value. All the others are only valuable based on what the core metal the silver was applied to. If they are very old then the copper base has some value as scrap. Newer designs are practically worthless.
Holloware does have a bit more value depending on its design, age, and if the set of tea dishes is complete. So if you are determined to sell it, you could get a couple hundred dollars for it.
But what if you are like me and want to keep it, even after I have photographed it to my heart’s content?
If you do like the shiny clean look of perfectly polished silver, I recommend using a natural process. I used to use Silvo but I have since learned it is highly toxic. There are a variety of natural ways to clean it such as soaking them in a sink with hot water, baking soda and aluminum foil or using a little toothpaste. To reduce the amount of times you need to polish, you can wrap your item in an anti-tarnish bag, a nifty system of special flannel cloth inside a bag. The cloth is embedded with silver particles that pull gases and pollutants out of the air so the silver dish does not tarnish. Amazing!
If you have a number of dishes that no longer have a use, like large sugar bowls or soup tureens you can use them as containers for other things.
Or if you have a few trays, use them as art on the wall and let them tarnish naturally.
People on Pinterest are so creative. Some people turned their trays into clocks, their tea pots and flatware into chandeliers and their spoons into rings. My personal favourite as a gardener though, is to take old spoons, flatten them, and turn them into plant markers.
Finally, if the bones of your silver dish are great but the finish is scratched or mottled, you can try painting it. I love this idea of using chalk paint to turn an old tray into a message board.
I went into this research project thinking that a lot of Silver Plate was going to end up in land fills. But this is simply not the case. There are so many options. Sell it, give it away, reuse it, paint it, or transform it. Silver plate is a beautiful art form that deserves to be preserved.