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Author Topic:   For the silver buff

Posts: 2334
Registered: Mar 2003

iconnumber posted 07-20-2004 07:30 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for ahwt     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The current issue of “Newly Catalogued Books – July 2004” from Joslin Hall Rare Books has a reprint of an interesting letter from Francis Hill Bigelow to the editor of a Boston (?) Newspaper dated June 2, 1916. Mr. Bigelow describes the vandalism of the “modern Jeweller” in the use of a “buffing” process to clean old silver. He notes that the beautiful blue color that comes with age is being ruthlessly destroyed by those whose only ambition is to make the vessels look like tin! He goes on to compare sending silver to the “modern Jeweller” without instructions not to buff it, to sending your family portraits to a house painter for restoration. Sadly, his fears continue to the present day with buffing still a lingering and persistent threat to the beautiful patina of old silver.

In another thread on this forum, there was a discussion of how to restore the oxidation to silver with a chemical treatment. The problem is that the chemical treatment discussed produces silver sulfide, not silver or copper oxide. It may darken the silver, but it does not replace the patina obtained by age when silver and copper slowly react with oxygen. I do not know the chemical processes involved, but suspect it has something to do with the fact and silver reacts very slowly with oxygen and that copper is also present. It may be that the beautiful blue color of old silver is actually because of the copper used in the final alloy. Certainly Sheffield plate is an example of this as old Sheffield just looks different than an object with a coating of pure silver.

I have Mr. Bigelow’s book entitled “Historic Silver of the Colonies and its Makers”, but never realized that this book was first published in 1917. My copy is a reprint from 1948 and because of its availability was one of the first books I brought and probably was the first book of many American silver enthusiasts. Mr. Bigelow’s extensive knowledge of silver in the Colonies is clearly expressed in this book, but I suspect it was his love for silver that makes his book still worth reading. One tip he provides on preventing tarnish is to place camphor with the silver. I have done that for some time with silver I have in a corner cupboard and the silver does remain tarnish free. The camphor may work, but I also think it is because I open the case less because of the awful camphor smell.

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