Silver Care

silver epergne on a dining table at Historic Edenton's Cupola House

silver epergne on a dining table at Historic Edenton’s Cupola House

Silver should be polished as infrequently as possible. Of course, historic house managers want to avoid silver turning black, gold, or purple. Although frequent polishing may do more harm, significant tarnish will suggest a lack of collections stewardship. If silver objects must be exhibited, then staff should practice the gentlest possible polishing methods. Several materials are available to help block tarnish-inducing sulfides from silver artifacts in storage.

1. Rub gently with lint-free, white cotton knit rag dampened with ethanol (denatured alcohol). This will remove any old wax or oily build-up that may be on the piece and clean off some, if not most, of the tarnish. (It may then be possible to skip steps 2-3.)

2. Mix a thin paste of precipitated calcium carbonate and distilled water. The paste should be a cream consistency. Dip a rag in the solution and rub silver as gently as possible. A pointed tool may be necessary to work with incised borders and decoration. Gently rub crevices with a toothpick.

3. Wipe with a clean rag, moistened with distilled water. A moistened, rag-covered point may be necessary to wipe crevices free of polishing paste. It may be necessary to dip pieces in distilled water to rinse and then blot with dry rags.

4. If piece will be exhibited, use a natural hair brush or a dry cotton rag to apply a small amount of micro-crystalline paste wax onto the surface of the piece.

5. Quickly buff with a clean, dry rag. (Do not allow much time to elapse between steps 4 & 5.)

6. Consider lacquering as a conservation treatment for silver objects on permanent exhibition. Waxing should last about a year before tarnish re-appears; lacquering should last about 10 years. Remember, even the gentlest polishing materials and methods remove trace amounts of the artifact, which may add up to a noticeable loss over time. (For a list of metals conservators, click here.)

7. Make corrosion intercept film covers for silver on exhibit. Try wrapping hollowware and flatware with intercept during times the exhibit is closed to the public. This material will absorb tarnish-producing gases and need to be replaced when color turns black. This method should reduce the need for polishing. If silver is exhibited inside a case, 3M anti-tarnish strips contain activated charcoal pollutant traps that will adsorb sulfides and help protect the silver.

8. Store silver in boxes or drawers lined with Pacific silver cloth. Or create individual wraps or pouches. Intercept films and bags are also silver storage options.

If you are interested in practicing some of these silver care methods, join us for a collections care basics workshop in Greenville, NC on February 25th.


About collectionsconversations

This blog will contain posts from the C2C project staff on a variety of topics related to collections care and disaster preparedness. Enjoy the posts and let us know if you would like additional information or have a topic you would like for us to address.

Posted on January 29, 2013, in cleaning, collections care, Connecting to Collections, Exhibitions, historic houses, storage, workshops and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I really Believe article, “Silver Care collectionsconversations” ended up
    being really good! I reallycan’t agree with u more! Finally seems like I reallycame across a blog site worthy of reading. Thanks a lot, Ola

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