Archive | February 2016

Silver Polish

a1Today I am cleaning some old silver I recently picked up at a secondhand shop.  There are four pieces to be cleaned.  First is a silverplate creamer made by Wallace in pattern # 9024, very nice overall condition, badly tarnished.a5

a2Second are vintage silverplate (90) dinner knife and fork in the same pattern (the pattern name I have not yet identified) made by V.S.F. or Vereinigte Silberwarenfabriken or United Silverwaremakers, of Dusseldorf, Germany.  These have seen some wear, particularly the knife, and are fairly tarnished.a4

a13And, finally, a real surprise, an English solid sterling silver fiddle handle dinner fork!  It was tucked innocently in a plastic bag with a bunch of stainless flatware.  The hallmarks indicate it was made in London in 1844 by a maker with the initials LS.  I have not been able to identify the maker’s name.  The fork is quite substantial, weighing 80 grams, and worth about $36 weight-wise at current sterling prices. I suspect its age will help bring a higher price at auction.  The tines have some wear, reducing the value.

Dealing in vintage and antique items resale occasionally brings pieces of silverplate or solid silver into my possession.  Over the years I have learned a few things about proper care of old silver.

Sometimes a seller, mostly online, will tout the “patina” of the silver item they have to offer.  What they mean is the thing is badly tarnished.  Some pieces are nearly black.  This is not patina, this is oxidation. Tarnish on old (or new) silver is not desirable except in a very limited way.

The proper patina on old silver is a very good feature.  It is what a discriminating buyer is looking for. Silver patina consists of a multitude of tiny scratches and scuffs acquired over many years of use. These add up to a softening of the brightness of the surface, the finish is no longer mirror.  Such wear should not be too deep.  Deep scratches are not desirable.  Wear that removes silverplate to the base metal beneath is unwanted.  The scuffs plus the right amount of tarnish are the real patina.

The right amount, much sought after, tarnish on silver is the black that slowly fills the crevices in pattern details, making the engraved or cast features stand out from the surface.  In general, silver should be polished to remove tarnish down to just what clings in the crevices.  The rest of the surface should be as bright a metal color as can be achieved given the wear.

When I first began acquiring old silver and came across blackened flatware or hollowware, I made the mistake of using a liquid chemical cleaner to remove oxidation.  The liquid does a great job of clearing tarnish, but it takes everything right down to the crevices and hollows of the details.  A chemically cleaned piece appears nearly showroom bright with hard to discern pattern details.  Over time oxidation will recur in the detailing, but it is a slow process.  Such a heavily cleaned piece is not totally ruined, but its value is temporarily reduced.

For collectors of sterling silver jewelry, for instance spoon rings and turquoise Native American handmade pieces, the patinization of the details is very important.  a14This contrast of silver and black is highly prized.  A purported old piece of silver without the tarnish in the hollows is suspect.  Sometimes I purchase an old turquoise ring for my personal collection that needs to be sized.  I am careful to stipulate to the jeweler NOT to polish the piece.  I learned to do this the hard way after my vintage ring with lovely patina was returned to me freshly cleaned and polished, gleaming like new.

a3I don’t often endorse products, but have found one worth sharing.  A bit of serendipity brought me to this amazing cleaner that easily removes the worst tarnish from silver without destroying the patina. They are called Cape Cod Polishing Cloths and consist of a soft, felted material impregnated with an oil. This oil allows tarnish to only be removed mechanically, by rubbing.  If the cloth does not touch the spot, the tarnish remains.  The black in the hollows is preserved, not chemically stripped away.

This silver polishing product is now my go-to cleaner.  It works on all metals, clearing stains and oxidized areas.  Old gold, pewter, Armetale and stainless can be restored to their original beauty.  The best part is the cleaner works without a lot of endless rubbing and hard work.  I can’t say enough about how much I love my Cape Cod cloths.  They have made my life easier.a7

To polish a blackened piece of silver, first put on some exam gloves and protect the work area.  Wipe the entire surface of the item with the Cape Cod cloth to moisten.  a6Then lightly rub until the surface is cleared of tarnish.  Rinse the silver in warm, soapy water and dry with a soft cloth.  The piece may be further buffed with a jeweler’s cloth to bring out the shine.a9

The finished pieces have a soft glow that is only achieved through age.  Nice quality tarnished silver pieces acquired for very little investment clean up to become attractive inventory in my online stores!a10

Spring Inside


It makes an interesting juxtaposition:  tulips against a snow storm, spring on the inside.  These are my Valentine gift.  So pretty in the window.  After they bloom I will fertilize them and keep them growing until the garden thaws and I can plant the bulbs. Maybe they will flower again next spring.

The snowstorm started yesterday and turned from frozen to liquid, driving right off the ocean.  The wind groaned and growled for hours, lashing the house with sheets of rain.  If that storm had been snow we’d be buried.  A true blizzard.  The story of this winter…if it had only been snow.

Now the pasture is more bare ground than snow and I have to lock the horses into the sacrifice ground so they don’t tear the grazing land to mud.  The next few days are due to be very warm, in the forties. Then who knows?  Another roller coaster into the arctic? Two days ago it was -9F when I went out to do barn chores. Today we’ll hit 45F.  These swings are hard on the plants and animals.

Politicians fiddle while the ice melts.

Goodbye to a Gem


Gem 2009-2016

Gem, one of my angora rabbits, passed away last night.  She was nearly seven and the only fawn colored animal my rabbitry has so far produced.  The fiber color was apricot at the tips shading to cream near the body and grew to about 6″ long.  Such a beautiful bunny.

This rabbit also had a beautiful heart.  A pleasant animal, she never fought with other rabbits.  She was best friends with her half-sister Citrine, who is an alpha female and does not get along with anyone who challenges her.  Luckily, she found a pal in Gem, a calm, quiet, friendly creature.  I’m certain Citrine will miss her buddy.


Citrine and Gem in the garden

Cancer took Gem away.  Several months ago I felt the beginnings of a breast tumor.  It grew quickly and spread to other regions.  I suspect it went to her lungs and that is what got Gem.  She died quietly in her sleep.

Nearly seven is a good age for a bunny.  Nature designed these prey animals to live about two years. Older rabbits often develop tumors.  Gem’s father also passed from cancer last fall.  He lived nine years, a venerable age for a bunny.

I hope this spring breeding season will see the birth of a little fawn-colored girl rabbit to fill the hole in my rabbitry.


Kittens at 12 Weeks


Cary and Kai are now twelve weeks old.  They have come a long way since the week-old orphans I fell for.  They love to make a sling bed out of my work clothes hanging to dry on the clothes rack by the fire. Both are strongly bonded to me and frequently spend the night snuggled up under my chin on the pillow.  When I pick them up they purr.  They think I’m their mother, so sweet.

DSC01620 (2)Today they went to the vet for the first annual rabies vaccination. I put the carrier out in the livingroom with the door open.  In no time the kittens went inside for a nap.  It was simple to just close the door and take them away.  This is a trick I highly recommend to any cat owner who has a hard time getting their pet in a carrier.  Take the door off and leave the carrier out in a quiet corner.  Put in some comfy towels. The carrier will soon become a bed and the cat will be more comfortable going places in it.

Six More Weeks of Winter


From Anatomy of the Groundhog, 2005

On this Groundhog Day, the rodent in Pennsylvania, Punxsutawney Phil, did not see his shadow.  It must be cloudy in PA.  Here in Maine, the weather is bright, sunny and slightly cool with an early morning temperature around 27F.  Does that mean winter will end early in PA and linger for six weeks here?

The whole concept of spring is a bit anti-climactic this year.  We had no real winter.  The temperatures have held between 20F to 40F for most of November, December and January.  I believe the coldest we saw was around -10F.  That is not winter in Maine.  The snow pack is abysmal at about 5″.  Usually we have a good two feet of snow by now, or more.


Minimal snow cover and morning shadows, view from our window today

Yesterday it was 50F, partly cloudy and lovely weather for pruning apple trees.  I worked on several trees and have nearly completed the monumental task of pruning the entire orchard.  I’m working in an area infested with poison ivy, so that the only time I can prune is when snow covers the nasty weed.  This non-winter is great for orchard work.  It is bad news for keeping invasive species at bay.

I have lived in Maine for 46 winters and this is the warmest, most open and strangest I can recall.  The oddness is unsettling.  I am hoping for a nice New England blizzard or two in February or March so things feel more like normal.