Sunday, May 15, 2011

Silver Spoons

Graduate school is hard.  And long.  And in the end, it's not about your field or your topic; it's about diplomacy.   This was my idea of diplomacy:   'That's a dumb idea and I won't do it.'

I had a lot to learn about diplomacy.  

I did learn.  Now, this is my idea of diplomacy:  'Hmm.  What an interesting idea.   I need to think about that for a while to really appreciate the nuances of every level.  I'll get back to you.'  [Translation:  That's a dumb idea and I won't do it.]

It took a long time for me to learn how to do that.   I had to mature a lot.

A lot.

And in the meantime, I had to do heavy duty research and then write about it.   I had to work hard.   My dissertation was long.   Diplomacy was hard.   I whined a lot.

Then I got into the habit of rewarding myself for all that hard work.  Every time I finished a chapter, I gave myself the reward of going to the antique mall and hanging out for an afternoon.

Confession:  It's impossible for me to go into an antique store and not find things that I can't live without.   As in, I will DIE if I don't get this.

It's ridiculous.   And embarrassing.   And potentially  fiscally irresponsible.

Since I am not independently wealthy, I kept my purchases small and utilitarian:  a hat, a teacup, a china plate with little pink roses, a piece or two of silverware.   My dissertation was long and I got to go to the antique mall a lot.  In time I had a lovely collection of silverware.

I love silver utensils.  I don't care if they're pitted.  Or if the silver has worn off on the back where the spoon rests on the table.   Or if they are monogrammed with someone else's initials.   Or if they tarnish five minutes after I polished them because I looked at them cross eyed or waved them in the general direction of brown rice.  I love them.  

I love the sleek and stylized designs of the 50s and 60s.   I love the rococo curlicues of the late 19th century.   I love the art deco angles of the 20s.   I love them all.    

Who knew there were so many types of spoons?   From left to right these are:  grapefruit spoon (with the little teeth on top), sugar spoon, teaspoon, tablespoon/soup spoon, iced tea spoon (very long handle, small bowl), cream soup spoon (very round bowl, some are quite deep), serving spoon, berry spoon (large, egg shaped bowl).

These spoons and their tined and bladed relatives stayed in my silverware drawer in the buffet for more years than I care to admit.  I'd use them Some Day, I told myself.   In the meantime, they tarnished.   I polished.  They stayed put.  They tarnished.  I polished.   They stayed put.   They tarnished.  

Then last year around Christmas time, I got sick of my old stainless and gave it away.   I pulled out all the old silverware and decided to use it every day.  I washed it all well and  I ignored the tarnish.  I figured that with regular use and washing, the tarnish would go away - and mostly it did.    We discovered that some of the knives rusted, so they went back into the buffet to stay.  We discovered that a couple of the teaspoons are for stirring tea only because they are barely strong enough to carry a spoonful of sugar from the bowl to the cup.   They went back in the buffet and on display in my old glass sugar bowl [right, in the top photo.]

The rest get regular use at every meal.   That old silver loves being used and with every washing it glows brighter.   

Here are some things to remember when using old silver:

1.  Tarnish is cosmetic only and will not hurt you.   Even stubborn tarnish will wear off with regular use.   Don't feel like you have to polish your pieces before you use them.  

2.  Don't put your silver in the dishwasher.    Most dishwasher detergents contain abrasives and/or bleach which will damage your silver.

3.  Wash with a soft sponge or cloth only.  Don't use a scratch pad.   Soak the silverware to soften hardened goo and then gently work it off without scratching the piece. 

4.   Patina is good.   That black stuff in the creases and dips of your silver is evidence of years of love.  Leave it there.    Dipping a piece in tarnish remover will remove all the patina.   I recommend against it.   Leave the patina.  

5.  There are many ways to remove tarnish.   I use a soft cloth and lots of elbow grease when I polish my silver.  A quick Google search for 'silver polishing' will take you to several interesting sites with tips and products to use to polish your silver.   Silver restorers recommend gentle creams.  I have used them with good results.   You can find these at places such as jewelers and fine stores that sell silver.    Remember, there are some creative tarnish removing tricks out there, but many of them will damage your silver.  Try them on a piece of silver you aren't attached to and wouldn't mind ruining before you try them on your precious pieces. 

Love your silver.   It will love you back.


  1. This made me laugh! I've been kicking the notion of grad school around in the back of my head for years now (as to what I'd actually study - no idea). But I can see myself responding the exact same way you did. Maybe I'll just keep kicking that notion around a tiny bit longer ;)

  2. Love this. I use my silver, and I put it in the dishwasher. I don't care if it pits - I have no children to leave it to. Remind me to leave the salt spoons to you (or your girls) in my Will.

    Are you sure that one with the really round bowl isn't a bouillon spoon? I can't tell the scale, from the picture.

    Grapefruit spoons are the most wonderful of all inventions. I rate them right after fire and ahead of the internal combustion engine.

  3. Christopher - great question! I had to look it up. Here's the page with flatware descriptions:

    It looks like bouillon spoons are smaller than cream soup spoons.

    And salt spoons!! I saw a set once. Adorable! With little crystal salt cellars.

  4. So I have bouillon spoons but no cream soup spoons, I guess. Yes, salt spoons go with little crystal salt cellars. We used them at holidays. When my parents' household was broken up I took the salt spoons but I didn't want the salt cellars. Which was silly but the spoons were too cute to let out of the family.


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