I have been asked many times about silver and its need to be cleaned. Due to its scarce, ductile and resistance to atmospheric corrosion, silver has been used for many centuries in the manufacturing of expensive wares of all kinds, including coins.
Sterling silver. Sterling silver, 92.5 percent silver, appears in most service wares and utensils. This pure silver is alloyed for strength with small amounts of copper. Lower priced articles made for the less affluent citizens were silver plated with a thin sheet of silver.
The name sterling derived from the silver penny of old England, around 1184. A star appeared on the coin, with old English wording of “sterro” for star.
Some history. The earliest silver plate is known as Sheffield, after the artisan who perfected the process attempted to repair an old broken copper knife blade utilizing silver.
Old silver will develop a blackish tarnish when exposed to the elements for too long. This is true of silver used with food, especially products with sulfur, like eggs, dressings and fruits. Tarnish is not oxidation, usually age is the cause.
Cleaning silver. A non-abrasive agent should be used to clean the silver as abrasives will remove a small amount of silver and most often will scratch the surface.
There are a few commercial products, but in using them experiment on an article of lesser value before attempting to clean your good silver.
If you use a cleaner where where the silver is dipped, some of surface metals may be removed.
The best treatment of silverware is to use it daily, wash with mild soap and wipe with a very soft cloth. Do not handle it too much as it will tarnish quickly.
Handle with care. Remember, silver and pewter are quite similar in soft quality; handle gently, do not drop, handle roughly or scratch against other pieces or anything.
Museums use very special commercial cleaners and polishing agents to clean silver. One is a 3M product called Tarni-Shield and another is International Silver Polish.
After using any polish, wash it with mild soap and dry carefully. Do not touch any metal object – silver, pewter, copper, brass and even metals in firearms -with bare hands.
Never use an automatic dishwasher, the detergents will often discolor it, plus the rough treatment is not advisable. Also do not rub silver-plated silver.
Silver storage. Store in a closed light, secure drawer or chest. Flannel materials are available to wrap your best silver in; even soft tissue paper can be used.
Tie the wrapping if not in use often, use a cotton string and do not use rubber or plastic ties, as these will tarnish silver through the wrap even with several layers.