Do you long to have a table filled with shiny flatware, gleaming platters, and candelabras? Concerns about upkeep, expense, or using your household silver holding you back? Check out these 7 Myths about Household Silver.
Myth 1 – Silver is expensive
Well, sure. There’s lots of expensive silver out there. Would I love to have the set of Tiffany sterling flatware ($4589) that I saw in an antique shop a few years ago? Yes, definitely. Do I? No. Or at least not yet.
Does that matter to me? No. Because there are tons of gorgeous, inexpensive (even cheap, if you know where to look) pieces of silver items out there just waiting for a home where someone will love them and use them.
Consider these trays – I’m firmly of the camp that says anything looks better if you put it on a silver tray. But trays are expensive! Some of them are, but lots of them are not. I bought all of these trays at consignment stores and local antique shops. Not one of them cost over $25 and some cost quite a bit less. They’re not the highest quality pieces but they look nice and do their job well. Over time, I may upgrade them as my budget allows but for now, they add a lot of character to my house and table for not a lot of cash.
Myth 2 – Silver is hard to care for
Is caring for silver, whether plate or sterling, more work than stainless steel flatware? Somewhat, sure. But it’s work that can be minimized with a little preparation and strategy. Is it worth taking a bit of extra time to clean and polish silver in order to enjoy it all the time? Well, I definitely think it is, and if you’re reading this, you probably think so, too.
Be realistic about how much time you really will give to caring for pieces, and then decide what that means for you. It might mean you enjoy using silver flatware once or twice a week, but you’re not interested in having to clean, polish, and store serving dishes and platters. Or vice versa. It might mean you’re not willing to take extra time on a weeknight but that you ARE willing to put in some extra time for Sunday dinner.
Start small with something that appeals to you, and see how you feel about it after a few weeks. Are you finding it burdensome? Then reevaluate what you’re using and/or how often and find a new option. The goal of slowing down and working in some splendor isn’t to turn your life into an endless drudge of cleaning and polishing. It’s to find ways to add some sparkle and fuss into the everyday in a way that enhances and enriches.
I have some silver plate serving dishes that I enjoy. But I don’t enjoy having to clean and polish them all the time, so I only break them out when I’m feeling a bit more festive. I have them, and I use them but I don’t force myself to get out every bit of finery I have every time I set the table, either. It’s ok to pick and choose.
Myth 3 – I need a whole set of matching pieces
If you’re the kind of person that likes things to be carefully matched and coordinated, then it’s true that you might not get a lot of enjoyment out of silver unless it’s all one pattern. And there’s nothing wrong with that at all. There’s a reason most silver patterns have tons of tableware and serving pieces!
But a little bit of mixing and matching is completely fine, and can often add interesting accents to your table. And if you’re just getting started with your silver collection, using mixed patterns or styles can make it much easier to host a dinner party or serve a group. Mixing patterns is also great when you happen to have a fantastic set of something – say eight antique oyster forks – but nothing else in the pattern. Let them be a standalone statement on the table.
If you’re going to mix and match flatware, it’s a good idea to make sure each individual place setting is a matching set, or at least has utensils that are of a similar size and scale. A great way to use multiple patterns is to focus on getting a matched set of standard cutlery – knives, forks (dinner and salad) and spoons and then use pieces from other patterns for things like dessert forks, butter spreaders or demitasse spoons. This can work especially well since those fun add-ons won’t necessarily get used for every meal, but your main utensils will.
In the image above, I’ve used a set of matched flatware but I’ve used a butter spreader and a pastry fork from other patterns.
Myth 4 – If I can’t afford sterling, it’s not worth bothering with plate
This might be true, to a certain point or for some people. But one could also make the same argument that if you can’t purchase sterling of a certain age or from a certain manufacturer, it’s not worth bothering. There’s certainly cheaply made silver plate out there that really might not be worth buying, but that’s because it’s poorly made or in rough condition, not because it’s plate.
This is another line you’ll have to draw for yourself, but my opinion is that there’s nothing wrong with silver plate. There are many lovely, beautiful pieces available, of all ages and styles. The quality and workmanship of an individual piece is much more of an indicator of value or worth than whether it’s plate or sterling. Bottom line – if you like it, and it’s of a good enough quality to hold up, buy it, use it, and love it. I wouldn’t suggest buying poorly made items or items in barely usable condition, whether they’re plate or sterling.
Keep in mind, too, that one may aspire to sterling (hello!) and still enjoy a set of silver plate flatware for “right now”. It’s generally pretty inexpensive to pick up 6 or 8 silver plate settings, and you can use those while you work on your sterling collection.
Myth 5 – I don’t have any where to store it
All right, you’ve got me here. I can’t advocate buying or acquiring things if you’ve truly not got a place to keep them. Splendor can’t flourish in clutter. And silver does have some basic requirements for storage and upkeep, so you can’t just shove it anywhere.
But keep in mind that you may be able to find a few clever storage solutions, and your only option for storing silver doesn’t have to be a specialty chest, cabinet or closet, although, those are all peachy.
For example, you can stash flatware, which often always comes with a storage case, under a dresser, bed or even under your couch if need be. Larger items can be put in an anti-tarnish bag or wrapped in anti-tarnish cloth and stored in a tote. Just make sure the tote is stored in a cool, dry place – if your basement is climate controlled, that’s an option. That is especially useful for larger items you don’t use all the time – platters, punch bowls, big serving pieces.
Don’t overlook simply “storing” a beautiful bowl, tray or platter as part of your home decor. Bookshelves, tabletops and even your walls can be a home for your silver pieces. Yes, you might need to polish it a bit more often than if it was stored in a tarnish-resistant area, but on the other hand, it’s lovely to enjoy your silver every day. Limited space or lack of safe storage places might mean you have to be selective about the pieces you choose to have but it doesn’t have to mean going without, either.
Myth 6 – My silver is an heirloom, I don’t want to damage it
As someone who’s silver is mostly heirlooms, I FEEL you on this. A lot of silver or china has been passed down through at least one or two generations, and it would be sad to lose a piece to accident or improper care. I have a large collection of silver, china, and glassware that came from various grandmothers and grandmothers-in-law and I would be very sad if anything happened to those pieces.
You can certainly choose to keep special items stored away. That most definitely increases the likelihood they’ll survive for another generation. But what you are keeping those treasures for if no one is ever allowed to enjoy them?
Consider if the piece in question was already used and loved by one generation. If so, then odds are good it’s already got a few dings or scratches on it so you may as well add your own story to it by using it on your table. At the very least, don’t let fear of damaging something hold you back from using it and making new memories. Learn how to properly use, clean, and store the piece in question. Do a bit of research on the maker, age, and materials, and that will tell you a lot about what care the piece will need.
The piece of wedding silver Grandma used regularly and cared for is probably in excellent shape and well-made enough to handle being used. On the other hand, if a piece was used heavily or cared for improperly, then it might be in too fragile condition to use. But it’s been my experience that a lot of the “good stuff” that gets handed down has been only lightly used, for fear of damaging it, or uncertainty for how to care for it. Silver can also take a bit more abuse than fine china or crystal, too, so it may be the perfect starting point for getting comfortable bringing some of your heirlooms to the table.
This is a totally subjective matter – only you can and should decide if a piece simply means too much to risk it on the dinner table. But I would encourage you to find ways to use your heirlooms – not only will you have lovely pieces for your table, you’ll be connecting with your ancestors, maybe even creating new memories among the younger generation of “great-grandma’s silver”.
Myth 7 -People will think I’m ridiculous for using “fancy” stuff.
Believe it or not, I think I’ve heard this concern more than most of the others on this list! People want to have parties or events that feature “fancy” things like table silver but they’re worried it will be off-putting or make people uncomfortable or that people will think they’re stuck up.
If this is something that concerns you, you’re not alone. Of course none of us want anyone in our home to feel uncomfortable and of course none of us want give the mistaken impression that because we like to be fancy-pants on occasion we think we’re somehow superior.
If you’re concerned you’ll come off as fussy or pretentious for breaking out the silver or china, start small. Use it for dinner at home with yourself or your spouse/partner/roommate – preferably someone who also thinks it’s fun to play around with this kind of thing. Test it out. Have a few meals and see how it feels. Repeat until you feel totally comfortable, bored, almost. The goal here is to get you to a point where this is all normal for you. If it’s normal for you, then you’ll feel more confident about stepping up your dining game with friends or family. If it’s normal for you, you won’t feel like you’re “showing off” by using fancy table stuff You’ll just be sharing something you enjoy with people you care about.
At the end of the day, it’s easy to find reasons not to use your household silver. If you’re afraid of it or if you’re worried about how to care for your silver, you’ll avoid it. There’s a workaround to nearly every issue here – it may take time or patience or a little bit of extra work, but if it is something you care about and want to do, you can find a way. And it really is a lovely way to enhance your table and meals.
Growing your collection of table silver, china, crystal, linens and home decor doesn’t have to break the bank.
SPLENDOR ON A SHOESTRING is my guide to finding antique and vintage tableware and household goods at any price point.