Sterling, silver-plate finding resurgence in today’s homes

By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal

If you’ve got some sterling silver or silver-plate items stashed in a closet or tucked away in a drawer, Alice Rogers wants you bring them into the light of day – and use them.
“I encourage people to use that old silver,” said Rogers, who owns Flowerdale Marketplace, an antiques and gift shop in Tupelo’s Mid Town District on Industrial Road. “It only makes it better. The more you use it, the prettier it is.”
Rogers, who has a large selection of sterling and silver-plate at her shop, said she believes silver is seeing a resurgence.
“Napkin rings are very collectible right now,” she said. “I have customers who collect them because they’re intriguing. And for someone who collects them, it makes gift-giving much easier.”
She said many of the napkin rings she sells have old-fashioned names – like Ethel and Rose – monogrammed on them, while others might say “Mom” or some might just have initials.
“Before washing machines, you re-used cloth napkins,” she said. “Napkin rings had names or initials on them so you got your napkin back at the next meal.”
Baby cups and julep cups are also popular right now.
“Baby cups make an interesting heirloom gift to pass along to a child,” she said. “Julep cups are increasingly hard to find – and expensive – because people are using them for floral centerpieces on little tables.”
Silver or silver-plate?
Rogers is not a snob when it comes to silver.
“There’s some fine old silver-plate that is excellent,” she said. “Everything doesn’t have to be sterling silver to be topnotch.”
In the U.S., sterling silver will most commonly be marked with the word “sterling” on it, said Tootie Murry, Rogers’ business partner. That means it’s .925/1000 pure (92.5 percent), which is the silver standard by law in this country. The other portion is a metal alloy added for strength, such as copper.
“Silver would tend to be a little flimsy without it,” Rogers said.
Silver-plate is made of a base metal like stainless steel, brass or copper that has been electroplated with a thin coat of silver.
“The most common error people make is they think if a piece is silver, then it’s sterling,” Murry said. “If it’s sterling, it will be marked sterling.”
But both are in vogue right now.
“Sterling and good old silver-plate will last longer than we will,” Rogers said.
So, how do you know if the silver-plate you have, or are interested in buying, is of good quality?
“I feel the older silver-plate – before the 1950s – is thicker and of better quality than some of what is being produced today,” Rogers said. “If it feels flimsy, it’s probably inexpensive and I would not pay a lot of money for it. If it feels heavy for its size, it’s probably a good investment, a good buy.”
You can also tell the difference by the price, if you’re dealing with a reputable dealer.
“A sterling napkin ring could cost between $65 and $125, depending on the size and weight,” Rogers said. “A silver-plate napkin ring will run you from $28 to $44.”
Mix and match
Rogers said once upon a time, brides would select the same pattern their mother and grandmother used.
“That way, they could borrow pieces from them and later, they would stand to inherit it and their patterns would match,” she said.
But often today, brides aren’t choosing silver patterns.
“I picked silver to write about because brides just don’t collect enough anymore,” said Patty Roper, editorial director of Mississippi Magazine, who wrote a piece on silver for the magazine’s spring bridal issue.
Roper was in Flowerdale one day last week shopping for – you guessed it – sterling silver. She ended up buying a chipped beef fork.
“There’s a piece of silver for everything,” Rogers said. She pointed to a collection of items on a counter in her shop: sardine server, evening purse, picture frame, match safe, baby cup, biscuit jar, wine cooler, bread basket, compact, drink coaster.
“I would love to see a real resurgence of silver, just for its beauty,” she said.
Rogers said it’s common today for people to mix silver patterns.
“That makes it so much more interesting and personal,” she said. “If you have your mother’s or grandmother’s silver, mix it with more contemporary pieces. People mix place-setting patterns and they mix silver-plate with sterling.”
She also noted that some vintage silver is comparable in price to today’s designer stainless steel patterns.
For example, a teaspoon in the vintage Chantilly pattern by Gorham will run $32 to $34. A stainless steel teaspoon from contemporary designer Vera Wang retails for $15.
“Of course, larger serving pieces, like serving spoons, are going to be more expensive because they have a higher silver content,” Rogers said. “They might run $70 to $80 each.”
Some of the more recognizable names in silver are Gorham, Towle, and Reed & Barton, Rogers said. Older names include Whiting, Webb, Kirk and Alvin.
“But just because yours is not marked by one of these does not mean it’s not good sterling silver,” Rogers said.
Care and storage
When it comes to the care of sterling, Rogers offered these tips.
Hand wash sterling with warm water using a mild dish soap, and dry it immediately with a soft towel.
For polishing, she uses Wright’s Silver Cream, because it comes with a gentle sponge.
“I’m not versed in the newer methods of polishing silver that involve putting aluminum foil in the bottom of the sink, so I can’t speak to that,” she said. “But I do have a pair of Hagerty gloves, which are treated to polish silver, that I’ll put on to hit the high spots on a piece if I’m in a hurry.”
If your piece of silver has gold vermeil on the bowl of the spoon, it’s there to protect the silver from acidic foods.
“People think it’s tarnish and they try and try to rub it off,” she said. “And good old sterling will sometimes develop a dark discoloration or patina in the grooves. I don’t try to get rid of that. I think it accentuates the piece.”
Finally, Rogers stores her silver pieces in soft cloth bags, some of which are treated with an anti-tarnish compound.
“If you store your silver in a silver box and it’s lined, it’s been treated with the anti-tarnish compound,” she said. “Be careful never to wrap your sterling in plastic and don’t bind pieces with rubberbands.”
But don’t keep your silver under wraps for long. Pull it out and use it . Repurpose it. Turn an old silver wine cooler into a flower vase. Turn a silver-plate bread basket into a centerpiece by filling it with silver napkin rings.
“I feel silver is seeing some new life,” Rogers said “Not only is it a work of art, it’s a value, too.”

Popular Patterns
THESE STERLING PATTERNS, all more than 100 years old, are still popular today, Rogers said.
• Chantilly

• Strasbourg

• Francis I

• Buttercup

• Old Master

• Grand Baroque

• Prelud

Click video to hear audio