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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

When is Tarnish a Positive Thing?

We are asked occasionally if we "professionally polish" pieces of sterling flatware that we sell. Our standard answer is, "No."

Before proceeding, let's define what tarnish is. Sterling silver, by definition, is 92.5% pure silver. This silver reacts with gases in the atmosphere to form corrosion known as tarnish. Sulfur dioxide is particularly corrosive. You can demonstrate this by placing a piece of sterling into a plastic bag with a chopped boiled egg. The sterling does not have to touch the egg but the gas given off by the egg will tarnish the piece within a few hours. So, tarnish is bad, right? Well, yes and no!

Of course, no one wants sterling pieces to be black with tarnish. Sterling is supposed to be silver in color! However, the tarnishing process coupled with hand polishing causes pieces to develop a rich patina over the years. And many argue, myself included, that intricate pattern designs like Gorham Buttercup and Wallace Grande Baroque are enhanced by light tarnish. In fact, there is a term, French gray, that implies that this is a desired thing.

So, back to the original question regarding "professional polishing". This process will remove much, maybe all, of the patina and French gray. Therefore, we only polish as much as we think necessary to have a nice-looking piece.

Below are two pictures. The first is of a Gorham Buttercup fork that has very little tarnish. The second is of a Gorham Buttercup teaspoon with some tarnish. Note how the tarnish brings out the details of the design. I'm not saying which is best because it's a matter of personal taste.

Click on any picture to see a larger version. By clicking on "Comments" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions/comments.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I inadvertently think I ruined by silverware by putting in the dishwasher. Is it now worthless? Can I undo the damage?

I'd appreciate your advice.

Susan Turnbull