Silver Restoration & Conservation: Issues and Answers


Jeffrey Herman working on a beautifully engraved J.E. Caldwell & Company waiter
SAS Artisan Jeff Herman

Basic Repair Advice by Jeffrey Herman
The Repair Process by Jeffrey Herman
Monogram Removal by Jeffrey Herman
Candlestick/Candelabra Thread Repair by Jeffrey Herman
Leveling a Hinged Lid by Jeffrey Herman
Disposal Damaged Flatware by Jeffrey Herman



The Society of American Silversmiths, its members, editors, contributors, and executive director disclaim any responsibility or liability for damages or injuries as a result of any construction, design, use, manufacture, restoration & conservation advice, or other activity undertaken as a result of the use or application of information contained on this Web site and all other Society publications.


Antique Restoration.gifRestoration by Jeffrey Herman
This was a fire damaged service made by Tiffany & Co. The 19th century hand raised and chased set was totally blackened with fused soot. All pieces were heavily dented and the bases pushed up into their bodies. The water kettle handle was destroyed and replaced with black walnut. All pieces were hand finished with very little of the original surface disturbed.


Basic Repair Advice

1. Only allow individuals with experience to clean your silver.

2. Dishwashers will eventually turn silver white from heat and harsh detergents, requiring professional refinishing. There's also the possibly of the blades exploding out of hollow handle knives.

3. Silver flatware, when used on a daily basis, will require no polishing. Make sure to hand wash the pieces with a phosphate free detergent and dry them immediately to avoid spotting.

4. Salt is extremely corrosive to silver; always empty shakers and wash them when not used on a regular basis.

5. Candelabra arms must always be supported from underneath to avoid distortion or possible breakage.

6. Before using a restoration service, get recommendations from museums housing large silver collections, major auction houses or antique dealers specializing in silver.

Monogram Removal

A hand engraved monogram or any type of decorative engraving is part an object's history and unique to that piece. Removing engraving does not always make a piece more salable, especially if the engraving is of high quality--quality seldom seen today with the declining number of outstanding engravers.

Some tips for collectors and antique dealers debating whether or not to have engraving removed: (1.) If it is a tray or hollow piece, rub your fingernail under or inside to determine if the metal is thick enough to have the engraving removed. If you see a slight wave develop as you move your fingernail, the piece is probably too thin. Remember, if the engraving is removed you run the risk of caving in that area with very little pressure. Can you imaging setting a coffee pot on a footed salver and having it sink into the center? (2.) If you have never used a repair service, test the reliability of the silversmith with a small piece of damaged flatware first. A competent smith will do a great job or suggest that the repair not be attempted at all. (3.) If engraving is removed from a hollow form or tray and you would like it reengraved, have it done in a different area where the material is thicker. An engraved area, especially on a thin piece, will be rather weak.

If you must have engraving removed, take the piece to a competent smith, otherwise it may be ruined and the piece devalued. Engraving that has been expertly removed will be undetectable on the surface. Upon removal of deep engraving, on a coffee pot for example, the metal may have to be pushed out from the inside to develop a level surface.

Candlestick/Candelabra Thread Repair

Over the years, weighted candlestick and candelabra threaded inserts can become worn, allowing them to continue rotating in the corresponding sockets without properly “catching.” Redefining these threads properly can be quite costly, since the pitch that is used as a reinforcing cement must be removed before pushing out the threads from inside with special tools.

In most cases, you can repair the insert threads yourself, allowing them to fully engage the corresponding socket threads. Go to your local hardware store or furnace and duct supplier and ask for aluminum tape. This is aluminum foil with an extremely sticky backing. Take the section with the worn threads and cut a piece of aluminum tape the same width as the threaded section. Remove the backing and wrap the aluminum around the threaded insert and cut it as close as possible to meet with the other edge. It’s better to be a little undersize than have to overlap the seam.. Next, use finger pressure to massage the foil securely onto the insert. Finish the job by using your fingernail to trace the threads around the circumference of the insert, making them more distinct.

Gently screw the insert into the socket, testing how it “sits” without wobbling. If there is still substantial play in the socket, allowing the insert to continue spinning, wrap it with another layer of tape as described above.

Leveling a Hinged Lid

Teapots, coffeepots, boxes, ink wells, and anything with a hinged top, may become unsettled in the way they sit due to rough treatment. Perhaps you have a piece with a springy top that simply won't sit level. You may be able to rectify this problem yourself. Cut to length and place a flat toothpick between the entire length of the two hinge plates and push, ever so gently, on the sides of the lid with your fingers. Take notice of any movement on the back side of the lid where the hinge palate is attached. If the lid still doesn't sit level, repeat the process by stacking additional toothpicks between the hinge plates.

Disposal Damaged Flatware

Has a piece of your flatware ever slipped down the garbage disposal? If so, you may have gone into shock in regard to its mangling. The spoon bowl may have been crushed, fork tines wrapped around each other, the handle folded in half or even chopped into many pieces. A monogram may also have been gouged. That piece of flatware, with the possible exception of hollow handled knives, need not be taken to the refiner; it most likely can be repaired to a functional state!

In order to correct the shape and finish of the piece during its repair, it is recommended to send a perfect duplicate piece for matching. Flatware that is highly ornamental, especially on the handles, may not be economical to restore. In this case you may wish to simply have any sharp or jagged edges smoothed to make the piece useful once again.

If you feel the piece doesn't warrant the repair expense, it can most likely be replaced through a silver replacement service. Since many patterns over time have been produced in different weights, it is best send a sample to the service to be matched.

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Updated 3/13/2008
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