Story: Paulette Pearson | Styling: Mandy Keener |
The trick to enjoying your sterling silver serving pieces, says Cindy Staley, co-owner of English Antique Imports in I-40 Antique Center, is to keep it readily accessible. Staley doesn’t hide her sterling away for safekeeping, or to use only for special occasions. And she advises clients not to fret over it either. “What many people don’t realize is that the more you use silver, the less high maintenance it is,” she says.
Kept within easy reach, sterling silver can become a part of your daily routine, and even enhance your everyday life—gravy ladles can be used to serve barbecue sauce, champagne coolers can hold fresh flowers, and toast racks can double as letter holders. “Be creative,” Staley suggests. Since each piece was made with a prescribed function, like biscuit barrels and pastry servers, silver is ideal for easier entertaining. Plus, the act of regularly washing and drying it with a soft cloth will buff away tarnish, caused by sulfur in the air, and lessen the need for tedious polishing.
Several times a year, Staley and her husband travel to England to hand-select antiques, including silver for clients seeking to expand their own collections. Often on the lookout for clients’ requests, such as grapefruit spoons, they hit the ground running, sifting through quaint shops and booths at local fairs, from Brighton to Bath to Oxford and beyond. Their strategy is to bring home the highest quality, most unique-looking varieties they come across. “I’ve learned that if it catches my eye,” she adds, “it will catch someone else’s.”
Staley especially admires the artisanal qualities of silver; that the artisans producing it so long ago, in the very regions of England she visits, “were so proud of their craftsmanship and what they did,” Staley explains. She much prefers these older versions because they have a heavier weight of silver and a more beautiful patina. “I like to see darkness in the crevices,” she says. And since it’s rare to find multiples of old patterns, Staley suggests not being afraid to mix and match.
Their hallmarks are also a telltale sign of craftsmanship, as well as quality. In the 12th century, laws regulating silversmiths led to an elaborate system of hallmarking, so that each piece bears a mark indicating the year, the maker’s name and the place of assay, or where the fineness or purity of metal was determined. As a result, hallmarks are a good way to denote authenticity, so forgery is uncommon. These marks are numerous and have evolved over centuries, and pocket guidebooks are available which Staley keeps close at hand.
No doubt Staley, a self-described Anglophile, has another trip to England in the works very soon. “Sometimes,” she laughs, “I don’t know what piece I need until I see it.”
The Silver Lining
Hagerty silver care products will keep your collection looking its best.
For information about hallmarks, “Bradbury’s Book of Hallmarks” is available on amazon.com
Beverlybremer.com is a renowned source for patterns, styles, replacements and more.
Solid sterling silver is a conductor of heat; keep your coffee or tea warm by stirring with a solid silver spoon.
Look for monogrammed silver that matches your own initials. “It adds character, and it’s a unique draw,” Staley says.