What you REALLY need to know about Using and Caring for Silver

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 and see what you really need to know about using and caring for silver.

Myth 1 – Silver is expensive

Is silver expensive?

Well, sure, there’s plenty 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, below. I’m firmly of the opinion that 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 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 but they look nice and do their job. Over time, I’ll upgrade them as my. But for now, they add a lot of character to my house and table.

Silver trays

Myth 2 – Silver is hard to care for

Is caring for silver a lot of work?

Caring for silver does take some extra effort. But it’s work that can be minimized with a little preparation and strategy. And the more you use your silver, the less often you’ll need to polish it!

Be realistic about how much time you really want to spend caring for silver pieces.  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. Or that you don’t mind handwashing silver flatware but don’t want to deal with serving pieces.

Start Simply

Start small. Pick something that appeals to you, and see how you feel about it after a few weeks. Does it feel like a chore? If so, reevaluate what you’re using and/or how often. The goal of using your silver isn’t to turn your life into an endless drudge of cleaning and polishing. It’s to find a way to use your silver that works for you. 

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.  It’s ok to pick and choose.

Storing and Caring For Silver is full of great information to make using and caring for silver easier.

Myth 3 – All of my silver pieces need to match. Don’t they?

Can I mix and match silver pieces?

If you like things to be carefully  coordinated, then it’s true that you might not get a lot of enjoyment out of mismatched silver patterns. 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. It 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.

Tips for mixing and matching silver

If you’re going to mix and match flatware, make sure each individual place setting is a matching set, or at least has utensils that are of a similar size and scale. It’s disconcerting if one’s knife and fork are drastically different in size or weight. A great way to use multiple patterns is use a matched set of standard cutlery – knives, forks (dinner and salad) and spoons. 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.

To make your mixed table setting look deliberate, consider using pieces that are visually distinct but still complimentary.  It should be clear that the oddball pieces have been chosen on purpose for their own character. Picking pieces that are too similar to your main flatware can mistakenly give the impression you’re trying (and failing) to match the pattern.

place setting showing a plate with silver flatware in coordinating but unmatched patterns.

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

Is it even worth buying silver if I can’t afford sterling?

This might be true, to a certain point or for some people. It’s a fact that all things being equal, sterling silver pieces are generally a better investment than plated pieces. 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. And so on. There’s certainly cheaply made silver plate that might not be worth buying, but that’s because it’s poorly made or damaged, not because it’s plate.

Is sterling silver better than silver plate?

This is another line you’ll have to draw for yourself, but in my opinion 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 well-made without serious damage 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.

Check out Important Things to Know Before You Buy Silver to learn more about the differences between plate and 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. Very few people with extensive silver collections acquired them in one fell swoop!

Myth 5 – I don’t have room to store silver

Do you need a special silver chest or a silver closet to store silver?

All right, you’ve got me here.  I can’t advocate acquiring things if you truly don’t have 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 your only option for storing silver doesn’t have to be a specialty chest, cabinet or closet, although those are all peachy. There are plenty of of clever silver storage solutions that don’t take up tons of space.

Tips for storing silver

You can stash flatware, which often comes in a storage case, under a dresser, bed or even under your couch if need be. Put larger items in an anti-tarnish bag or wrap them in anti-tarnish cloth and store them in a tote.  However you pack it away, store silver in a cool, dry place.

Don’t overlook simply “storing” a beautiful bowl, tray or platter as part of your home décor. Bookshelves, tabletops and your walls can be a home for your silver pieces. Yes, you might need to polish it a bit more often  but 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 whose 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 relatives and I would be very sad if anything happened to those pieces.

You can certainly choose to keep special items stored away. That 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?

How to use heirloom silver

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. 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 pieces of antique  wedding silver Grandma used and cared for lovingly are probably in great shape and ready for another generation to love. On the other hand, if a piece was used heavily or cared for improperly, then it might be too fragile to use often. But it’s been my experience that a lot of the “good stuff” that gets handed down has barely been used. That means it’s often in excellent condition.

Silver can also take a bit more abuse than china or crystal, 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.

Is it pretentious to use silver table settings?

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 or putting on airs.

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 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, 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.

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