Cleaning: The more silver is used, the less it requires being cleaned because normal washing will prevent tarnish forming.
However, contrary to popular opinion, cleaning silver is not difficult. Certainly forget images of Upstairs and
Downstairs type dramas where silver requires a butler and an army of servants to care for it. Now we have
proprietary cleaners that make life easy. Take a look at www.hagertyshop.co.uk for the
range and www.scjohnson.co.uk/nqcontent.cfm?a_id=6217 for Goddard’s product range.
Polishing: The traditional way of cleaning silver is to use silver polish: it is applied with one cloth, left to dry and
polished off with another. Today’s polishes also contain an anti-tarnishing agent that can keep tarnish away for a
considerable period. While traditional polishing still has its merits for silver with a polished (ie mirror-like surface),
there are easier alternatives. CARE: Please note that traditional polishing is not suitable for silver with a ‘satin’
finish. It is also not suitable for engraved or textured silver as regular polishing will wear away the decoration
time and it is difficult to remove the polish from the incisions into the surface of the silver. Always use a soft
both applying and removing the polish so as to avoid lightly scratching the surface of the metal. Avoid
the hallmarks as a piece with rubbed hallmarks, that cannot be distinguished, is generally worth much
less than a
piece where the marks are legible.
Silver Foam: Simply apply the ‘foaming soap’ to the silver with the supplied sponge, having first moistened it.
Having given the piece a good ‘lathering’ washing off the foam with warm water. The foam also contains an
anti-tarnishing agent. Unlike polish, it does not blacken the hands and fingernails. It can also be used for silver
with a ‘satin’ finish. CARE: When drying the washed silver, use a soft tea towel (eg as used for glasses) so as to
avoid lightly scratching the surface of the silver.
Silver Dip: Good for intricate, textured or silver with a ‘satin’ finish. Note that silver dip does not have an
anti-tarnishing agent. CARE: After dipping, thoroughly wash pieces with soapy water. Where domestic silver is
concerned the reason is obvious – it avoids ingesting chemicals. However, it also avoids any residual chemical later
reacting with the silver. This usually takes the form of giving the silver a yellow tinge. Silver dip is great for removing
the stains caused to the prongs of forks caused by mayonnaise or a salad dressing. TIPS: Dry the silver immediately
after washing so as to avoid a ‘streaky’ surface. If an object is too big to be ‘dipped’, silver dip can be applied with a
soft brush, such as a shaving brush – do not use brushes with hard manmade fibres so as to avoid lightly scratching
the surface of the silver. A soft brush is also invaluable when cleaning textured or engraved surfaces with silver dip.
Silver Gloves: A speciality of Haggerty’s. For silver with a polished surface, the Pearson Silver Collection favours
this method. The gloves are impregnated with a cleaner containing an anti-tarnishing agent. Whereas cloths are also
available for the same purpose, the gloves allow for a firmer grip of the silver, therefore greatly reducing the chances
of it ‘slipping’ from your hands. Polishing a piece on open display for a couple of minutes a week is sufficient to keep
it tarnish free. Furthermore, regular polishing also builds up a ‘patina’ or ‘butler’s finish’ over a period of time giving
it a good depth of colour. CARE: Please note that gloves are not suitable for silver with a ‘satin’ finish. They are also
not suitable for engraved or textured silver as polishing will wear away the decoration over time. Avoid polishing the
hallmarks, as a piece with hallmarks that cannot be distinguished is generally worth much less than a piece where
the marks are legible. TIP: New gloves my leave a ‘film’ over the surface of the silver. This can be removed by simply
lightly rubbing it with a standard jeweller’s cloth.
Silver is relatively robust, but it does need to be treated with respect so as to avoid denting, misshaping or scratching
it. However, should a mishap occur, a good silversmith will normally be able to put matters to rights so that no one,
including its owner, is any the wiser that it has been damaged.
Silver adversely reacts to salt. The interiors of salt-shakers should be gilded (ie gold plated), as should the interiors
of open salts that do not have glass liners. Do not leave salt in containers where there is no protection for the silver
from the salt. Certainly do not leave a salt spoon in open salts.
When storing silver avoid, damp environments. Storage bags made from material impregnated with an anti-tarnish
agent are available in a variety of sizes. However, a perfectly acceptable and cheaper alternative is to wrap pieces in
acid free tissue paper and then in bubble wrap. On no account use any form of paper that is not acid free as this will
react unfavourably to the metal. Cutlery is best stored in rolls made from a material impregnated with an
anti-tarnish agent. These are available in a number of sizes designed to hold one dozen specific items of cutlery.
TIP: Silver should be handled. Nevertheless, silver with a polished surface does show every finger print. When preparing a display
of such silver, or setting a table, wear white cotton gloves. These are available from most chemists and the cosmetic
sections of department stores.
What to buy
The answer is simply ‘What you like’. Before you take the plunge, explore the lie of the land to see what is available.
The world is your oyster. Vintage Post War British Silver embraces a number of quite distinct styles whereas
contemporary silversmiths offer a wide diversity of designs as well as making techniques.
The flippant answer could be, ‘Wherever you can find it.’ However, certainly as far as the Pearson Silver Collection is
concerned, it summarises the sources of the pieces in its collection in a nutshell as acquisitions have been made at
auctions as far south as Cornwall and as far north as Edinburgh, with sale rooms as diversely located as Cockermouth
and Stamford in between. Purchases have been made from London and provincial dealers, on e-bay, from London’s
Portobello Road and of course, direct from silversmiths.
Here is a quick round-up of sources for both contemporary and vintage silver. This is by no means comprehensive,
but it will get you on your way.
A good start is the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths’ (the Company’s) directory, Who’s Who in Gold and Silver at
www.whoswhoingoldandsilver.com. This gives individual silversmith’s contact details, website details (if they have
one) as well as galleries that may stock their work. Each entry has images of their work and usually a mission
statement. The directory is by no means comprehensive as it only embraces established silversmiths and then by
no means all of them.
The Company’s Goldsmiths’ Fair held the last week in September and the first in October is certainly a date for the
diary as it gives the opportunity to meet and see the work of both established silversmiths as well as newcomers.
(The Fair also embraces jewellery.) The exhibitors vary in the first and second week, so ideally one should visit in
British Silver Week (BSW) is a relatively new venture that promotes the work of some of the very best contemporary
silversmiths. In 2008 there were over 100 participating silversmiths ranging from the established masters to young
rising stars. Following the launch at Goldsmiths’ Hall in the City of London, the work of 12 Master Craftsmen were
displayed in the State Dining Room at Chatsworth House from June 8th to July 5th. Over the same period there was
a ‘trail’ of a dozen pieces of 20th century pieces from the Pearson Silver Collection displayed in the State Rooms.
Additionally, throughout the UK, the work of BSW’s silversmiths was displayed at participating retailers and galleries
throughout the country. The event is staged at the beginning of June.
Other London events to look out for are the Craft Council’s Connect staged in May and Origin held in October as well
as July’s New Designers where recent graduates from the nation’s art colleges exhibit their work. These events
embrace all media, including silver. Of course, there are also numerous regional events that are well-worth attending,
such as Oxfordshire’s Art in Action. Keep an eye on your local media for details.
Then of course there are retail outlets and galleries that stock the work of contemporary silversmiths. In London
there is Richard Jarvis in Pall Mall, Adrian Sassoon in Rutland Gate and Asprey’s in Bond Street. Provincial outlets
include Payne & Son of Oxford and Styles Silver of Hungerford. All five mentioned have their own websites, so
Google to find out more. Again, keep an eye on your local media for sources.
As already indicated, British Post War Silver appears at auction across the country. In most cases every effort is
made identify the makers, though of course there is no guarantee that items do not slip through the net unnoticed,
which of course is excellent for the observant collector or dealer, but not so good for the vendor. However, it is a time consuming task to view what is on offer, even on-line. However, it is made easier if you concentrate on the main
houses. The Silver Department at Bonham’s in London’s Knightsbridge is currently the leading auction house for
Post War British Silver. Currently it holds two auctions a year offering a reasonable section of British Post War Silver.
Provincial auction houses such as Dreweatts, Lawrence’s and Woolley & Wallis do have small sections of British Post
War Silver in their periodic silver or decorative art sales. Items also appear on e-bay.
Dealers also offer pieces. The largest concentration in London is at the London Silver Vaults (nearest Underground,
Chancery Lane). Those who usually have an offering of Post War British Silver are Nat Leslie, Michael Sedler and
S & J Stodel. It is also worth looking at the antique centres in the capital such as Gray’s (nearest Underground, Bond
Street). Provincial antique centres should not be forgotten, as indeed should provincial antique and silver dealers:
again Payne’s of Oxford and Styles of Hungerford normally have a good offering of Post War Silver, which can also be
viewed on their respective websites.
The flippant answer is, ‘What you think it is worth.’ Before you make a purchase, familiarise yourself with the market.
If you are interested in contemporary pieces, go and see what is on offer from silversmiths. Explain that you are a
newcomer to the world of silver and talk to them about their work. Ask to handle items and perhaps ask how certain
pieces are made. The majority are only too delighted to be your guide. Of course request the price of pieces that
appeal to you.
If vintage British Post War silver interests you, view auctions and handle the lots. Then ask for the in-house expert’s
view of the merit of specific pieces that you like and his or her view of the likely realisations. Then monitor the
results – remember though that you will have to pay the Buyer’s Premium (plus VAT on it). You can also watch
pieces on e-bay and see what they realise. Also view dealers’ stock and engage in conversation. Ask questions and
you will find that a knowledgeable dealer is a mine of information: it soon becomes obvious the ones that have no
expertise. Naturally ask the price of pieces that appeal to you
This will not be an ‘instant’ educational experience. However, the exercise is very worthwhile, as you will be acquiring
the skills to sort the wheat from the chaff as well as beginning to formulate your own idea of a specific piece’s value.
However, there is no ‘right’ and there is no ‘wrong’ price as at the end of the day, price is determined by the interaction
of supply and demand. However, with a little effort you will soon be able to make a judgement as to why certain
pieces are more desirable than others.
When any of the art, fine art or collectables markets are viewed as investment arenas, historically it has nearly
always ended in tears. This does not mean that serious collectors have not seen the collections they have thoughtfully
formed over the years increase in value. However, people who buy into a particular area on a speculative whim can
land up licking their wounds. Buy something because you like it, not because you see it as a route to making a quick
buck. If over time something you bought to cherish is worth far more than you originally paid, treat it as an added bonus.
It is worth bearing in mind what the head of the jewellery department of a leading London auction house responded
to a journalist’s question as to whether jewellery was a good investment, ‘It depends what you pay’.
Unfortunately there is currently not a great deal available. Perhaps the best all-round book is Treasures of the 20th
Century published by the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths (the Company) in 2000. The volume covers both silver
and jewellery, though the greater part is devoted to silver. While this starts at 1900, the Post War era is particularly
well covered. With laminated card covers, this large format book contains 184 pages and contains 569 colour
illustrations. It retails for £20 and is available from the Company. See www.thegoldsmiths.co.uk/thelibrary/publications.
htm. Note that the Company still has catalogues for the retrospective exhibitions it staged on the work of:
Leslie Durbin (1982)
Alex Styles (1988)
Kevin Coates (1991)
Although the Company no longer has stocks of 25 Years of Stuart Devlin in London, the catalogue for its 1983
exhibition of Devlin’s work, this does appear occasionally on e-bay and at secondhand bookshops. Stuart Devlin, a
40-page hardbound book that Devlin privately printed in the 1970s, is more difficult to find. Copies of the Company’s
catalogue for its 1973 exhibition of Christopher Lawrence’s work are very elusive on the secondary market. Indeed,
the Curator of the Pearson Silver Collection has been looking for a copy for some time. However, a book on Gerald
Benney is more readily available. This is Gerald Benney. Goldsmith. The story of fifty years at the bench by Graham
Hughes. Starcity Limited of Alfriston published it in hardback in 1998. There was a soft bound edition published in
2004 for sale at the Company’s retrospective of Benney’s work.
However, the Antique Collectors Club will be adding a title on Post War British Designer silver to its list in 2010/11.
The authors are John Andrew, Curator of the Pearson Silver Collection and Derek Styles of Styles Silver, Hungerford.