How to restore a beautiful but corroded silver plated thing?
December 26, 2012 7:26 AM   Subscribe

What can I do to restore a beautiful but heavily damaged (rusted, corroded, tarnished) set of silver-plated silverware found on the street?

My girlfriend and I found a set of silverware on the street some time ago. This is a beautiful set of silver-plated William Rogers A1 that we think dates to about 191x. The catch: when we found it, it was heavily spotted with some kind of green corrosion.

After some internet research, we used a paste of cream of tartar and lemon juice (and a lot of Q-tips, and a rotary tool's buffing attachment) to get rid of the green corrosion, as well as much of the rust. What's left looks more or less like this. Still pocked, even if a heck of a lot better than it was.

Now we are at a bit of an impasse. In principle, I'd like to replate these, if I can do it myself and without an enormous expense. But it looks like replating kits cost thousands of dollars, and replate the ENTIRE face of the silverware, meaning I'd basically end up with plated pock marks.

Is there a third way toward making this silverware beautiful again that I haven't thought of? Does anyone on here have experience with projects like this?

(For what it's worth, I'm not interested in the monetary value of the silverware at all. I'm interested in these as beautiful, usable objects.)
posted by cinoyter to Home & Garden (8 answers total)
Best answer: I think what you're seeing is that the silver plate has worn completely through. There really isn't anything to be done about that than to replate it. And that isn't likely to repair the underlying damage to the objects. I think this one is basically done for.

There's thus good news and bad news.

The bad news is that silver plating is usually only a few atoms thick, making it essentially worthless for its metal value.

The good news is that because of this, entire sets of plated silverware dating back quite a ways are frequently available at antique stores for a very reasonable price. Sometimes multiple sets, sometimes for under $100.

Your best bet? Dump these 'uns and get yourself a new antique set from your local antique mall. You'll spend way less money than you would trying to restore these, and you're likely to wind up with a better set in the end anyway.
posted by valkyryn at 7:31 AM on December 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

Beautiful! Why not just use it for everyday?
posted by skbw at 7:42 AM on December 26, 2012

Wow, I was just Googling this last night. I found this exhaustive-looking site—Replating silverware at home—but didn't read through it so I don't know what the final verdict is. I also read somewhere else that you can start by removing what's left of the existing silver plate before replating.

However, these home kits only work on certain types of base metals, and the way that the silver seems to have almost chipped off of your pieces, instead of having rubbed off from wear, makes me think that the base metal will not take a home plating kit.

But anyway, that site should have everything you want to know.
posted by thebazilist at 8:08 AM on December 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Personally I'd just make jewelry with them. You can bend that stem and tines in nifty ways.
posted by spunweb at 8:21 AM on December 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: valkyryn has it, and succinctly.

To elaborate, as I am formerly an antique dealer who handled flatware and our store brokered repairs for people with a silversmith: This is not a DIY project, it's a trade or a career more than a hobby.

The silver plate has indeed worn through, and your base metal is pitted, which will require major buffing and polishing and losing quite a bit more of it to make it evenly smooth again. This means having the tools (polishing wheels and compounds) and skill to do it evenly and properly, and you have to do every bit of the surface, not just where the issues are visible - you need to create a smooth finish with no pits or pores (under magnification - not to the naked eye.) It's not a dremel project, as you want the surface prepared to a certain polish all over to take the plating. And then you need to clean the dust off after that, which is again, something that takes skill and the ability to handle some really nasty chemicals, before plating.

There are acid baths and then other steps to plating, as sterling adheres to copper better than to base metal. That's the good news - it looks like you have might have copper rather than nickel silver (EPNS- which has a layer of copper between the nickel and the silver.) It's a nicer quality of plated flatware. Copper would polish beautifully, but would require wheels that move at such a speed as to heat the surface to cause the metal to flow a bit, to polish the surface. If you've gotten all the way down to only a copper layer, but there's base metal under that, you have farther to go and that sucks.

But first you have to get all the silver off to put a new layer on. You'll lose some detail. If you don't do it evenly, the mirror-polish of the new plating (which takes more polishing after it's been plated - the job's not done after it's been dipped) will show any imperfections. That's why it's expensive to have done professionally, and nearly impossible to do a good job at home (let alone an excellent one.) At-home solutions are mere microns thick and last a single use depending on what you're eating, whereas professional plating will be at least 5 and usually more.

Think of it like a wheel of cheese that's had some gouges to the rind or wax around it, and more and different mold has gotten into it. You'd have to take away good cheese as well as bad to get it back to a perfect shape to have a perfect rind or seal again. You have to dip it several times in the wax to get good, thick even coating of wax - each time risking imperfections.

Though it's not about the money, when we were buying Rogers flatware, even of that age, from estates, we'd pay $1 a piece for flatware, and $2-5 for serving pieces. At the auction house where I worked, entire sets of silver plate flatware would sell for $35 (as opposed to sterling, which at auction would have a value of $5 and up per piece). At the store, we paid a non-retail price for re-plating, and sent them a lot of business and got a good rate, but a set of flatware would be hundreds to re-plate, and was only usually done for sentimental reasons. Your pieces are beautiful, but not rare. They would not be saleable in today's market unless someone was completing a pattern, and in that condition, not something many stores would purchase at all because it's more trouble than it's worth. But, since you're enjoying your expensive and time-consuming new hobby and they're beautiful and usable even if they're not silver...

You could take it all down and have copper flatware (or enjoy part copper and part silver plate, or any combination thereof with base metal) - but it would turn black every time you used it to eat or serve something acidic.

Really though, though it seems like you found treasure, you found a project that may be either forever unsatisfying, or an opportunity to develop and practice an incredible new skill that will be more valuable than your first project.
posted by peagood at 8:40 AM on December 26, 2012 [12 favorites]

I suggest an art project made from them.
posted by fifilaru at 12:54 PM on December 26, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the great answers everyone!

... though, peagood, where would one go to be able to get some of these sets at auction for $35? Sounds tempting.
posted by cinoyter at 6:36 AM on December 27, 2012

I don't know what they're going for lately, as I'm not really in the market myself -- but start with an auction house like Empire that may have sales of big lots from Estates during the week. Sign up for email notifications from Estate Sale companies (or household contents sale companies) and check their sales too. If you have to walk into a store to buy it, it already has a mark-up. But any place that needs to sell something to liquidate an estate will sell it at the rock bottom price, and that's where dealers buy things to mark up in their stores or to re-sell. I see them at Estate Sales in Buffalo, where by the third day everything is 50% off and they're really reasonable. I've looked on CL in Montreal for you, and can see that the ones listed there are more likely from a re-seller though others may turn up more reasonably from time-to time.
posted by peagood at 7:33 AM on December 27, 2012

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