Reuse: Antique Silver is Green (and Beautiful)

Logo for sig Reuse: Antique Silver is Green (and Beautiful)

Today, I have the pleasure of sharing a guest post written by Nancy Stuckwisch of Silver Magpies. Nancy helps people find silver they love and can use (rather than just polish). Why buy new when there is so much beautiful silver already out there? You can read more about Nancy, her background, and her business at the end of the post.

Sterling silver

Two words that often strike dread into the hearts of busy people. Sterling silver has unfairly acquired a reputation for being delicate and high maintenance.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Somewhere along the line, sterling has come to be viewed as old-fashioned and fussy. I suppose many of us have memories of the dreaded once-a-year cleaning before a major holiday.

I see the evidence of this all the time, as I run across blackened, neglected, and tarnished pieces.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

If you take a fresh look at sterling, you may be surprised.

1. Why not use your silver every day? Put it in the dishwasher. Yes,the dishwasher. The great, and apparently hidden, secret about silver is that the more you use it, the less it needs polishing.

Mine gets used every day and it never gets polished. It has acquired a beautiful patina, that subtle graying of the silver’s surface, indicative of use and care. A mirror finish often means that a piece is new and/or unused. Or that you have sent it out to have all signs of love and use buffed away by a machine.

2. Did you inherit grandma’s silver, but you aren’t that wild about the pattern? If you don’t feel any sentimental connection, you can always trade it in. Silver comes in patterns from plain and simple to baroque. You don’t even need to stick to a single pattern.

I have a client who has enjoyed building a “set” composed of Georgian tablespoons, Mother of Pearl handle forks, and some superb deco knives from Shreve. It looks spectacular, and if ever there was a lull in conversation at her table (highly unlikely), just talking about the flatware could fill any conversational gaps.

3. Don’t get intimidated or trapped by the names. Sardines serving sets, toast forks, 4 o’clock teaspoon, the ice cream slice; I have a number of clients confess to me that they would never use these pieces because they never serve these items. It does not matter.

Toast Fork Reuse: Antique Silver is Green (and Beautiful)

Technically this is a toast fork. It is gorgeous, a Mother of Pearl handle and the rest is sterling silver. Perfect for serving smoked salmon or ham.

Throw caution to the wind and serve veggies with the sardine fork. As I have written before, Emily Post is not going to jump out of the bushes and rap you over the knuckles.

4. Buy vintage and go green. Antiques are Green is a wonderful organization that did a very interesting comparative study about the relative carbon footprint of a modern dresser vs. an antique one. Guess which had the smaller carbon footprint? While they have not done a study specifically on silver, I’d be willing to bet that the principle holds true.

5. What to look for when buying?

• Make sure it’s something you really love. If you like simple and spare, find it. Is over-the-top rococo your thing? There’s plenty out there. Don’t buy something “safe” because it is safe.

Louis and Fiddle 300x210 Reuse: Antique Silver is Green (and Beautiful)

Does the sumptuous scrollwork of Louis XVI by the Whiting Manufacturing Co. speak to you? Or do you prefer the spare, classic lines of the traditional fiddle pattern? These pieces are Georgian c. 1777, but many modern versions exist.

• Look for well-made, high-quality pieces. Examine the back or reverse of an item as thoroughly as you would the front. A well- made piece is finished just as nicely on the back as the front.

front of flowers servers 300x157 Reuse: Antique Silver is Green (and Beautiful)

back of flowers servers Reuse: Antique Silver is Green (and Beautiful)

This an extreme example, but the backs of these figural serving pieces are just as detailed as the fronts. Each flower is shown from both sides.

• Is it a nice weight? Shop around and pick up as many pieces as possible, getting to know how they feel. Some patterns will seem heavy for their size, other might feel light. Heavier is better – it means more silver.

heavy Christina spoon 300x237 Reuse: Antique Silver is Green (and Beautiful)light Christina spoon 300x224 Reuse: Antique Silver is Green (and Beautiful)


This is the Christina pattern by Gorham. First issued in 1935, it was in production until 1991. The spoon on the left is much older than the one on the right.

6. It’s not as delicate as you think. It’s metal. It was made to be used every day. The pieces most of us own are not museum pieces – although I know of one museum worthy piece in use.

Sterling is a decorative art, but first and foremost it was intended to be functional.

7. Silver has fascinating stories to tell. Every piece was designed and made by someone who was reacting to, or trying to define, the world around us. Politics, art, history, economics, social trends — all of these influences are embodied in silver.

I had the pleasure of documenting some silver for a client, and among the items I cataloged was a pair of spoons dated 1765. As I followed the trail of their history, I found that the spoons had been made by George Hanners, a silversmith in Boston in the early 1700’s.

Hanners Marks Reuse: Antique Silver is Green (and Beautiful)

The first maker’s mark he registered in 1720 had his initials underneath a crown. The second mark he registered years later had the initials, but no crown. Hmmm, do you think his political views were changing?

Thoughtful | Functional | Beautiful

That is the tagline for my business. I truly believe that sterling displays all of those attributes.

The other point is that, by creating a “don’t touch, it will break” mentality about silver, and other antiques more generally, we are perpetuating a cycle that eventually leads to having no feelings for these things at all. The result is items are either stuffed in the closet, never to see the light of day again, or they are sold for their value as scrap metal.

In my own case, I know I cherish items in my personal collection not for their artistic merit, scarcity, or monetary value, but for the memories I have when I pick them up. If we never have a chance to use and touch, and our children grow up only with memories of being told “don’t touch,” it can’t come as a surprise to anyone when our children don’t care. Why should they?

Get that silver out of storage.

Use it, enjoy it, make memories with it. It’s beautiful, it’s tough, and it will outlast all of us.

Logo for sig Reuse: Antique Silver is Green (and Beautiful)Nancy Stuckwisch, owner of Silver Magpies, has had a life-long fascination with silverware. For 14 years she ran her own environmental consulting firm, working with non-profit environmental organizations. One day she decided to close it down and take another path. And with that, Silver Magpies came into being.

Silver Magpies specializes in antique and vintage silver for the table and bar. Every piece of silver has a story – it was not created in a vacuum. Social, artistic, political, economic, historical and personal influences all leave their mark. One of Nancy’s favorite parts of her business is researching each and every piece that crosses her desk and passing the information she learns on to her clients.

Notes & Observations is where Nancy regularly blogs about sterling silver, hallmarks, and silver in general. She strongly believes that we should get the silver out of the cupboard, onto the table, and then into the dishwasher. Use it, enjoy it, and don’t give tarnish an opportunity to develop. In her experience with clients, polishing away tarnish is the prime reason the silverware stays packed away.

Nancy is a British expat living in the US. She holds a BSc in International Relations from the London School of Economics, an MA in War Studies from King’s College, London, and an BSc in Geography from the London School of Economics. Surprisingly, these degrees come in handier than you might imagine.

Staggering Plastic Statistics

3931095607 979d813ccf Staggering Plastic Statistics

The Sierra Club magazine has an article this month titled Beyond the Barrel: Can we really get off oil in 20 years? This article focuses on specific ways our country can break it’s “addiction” to “19.64 million barrels per day.” A staggering number, no?

There are some mouth-dropping statistics quoted throughout the article that I will highlight here, but I highly recommend you take a quick click over to the original article at the Sierra Club magazine’s site for the photos. This article features 3 different photographs taken by Chris Jordan. The first, called “Oil Barrels,” is a beautiful and disturbing photo of 28,000 42 gallon barrels of oil, which is the amount we consume in the United States every two minutes. The second photo is called “Plastic Bottles” and here, Jordan has captured 2 million plastic bottles — we, in the U.S., go through this many every five minutes and only 1 in 4 gets recycled. The third, and final, photo is called “Plastic Bags.” Jordan has photographed 60,000 plastic bags. Get ready to cringe — we go through these every five seconds.

Am I trying to shock you with these numbers? Yes!

I was shocked and am more committed than ever to finally remembering those reusable bags I’m always forgetting to take into the grocery store. This isn’t about guilt. It’s about being aware that oil dependency isn’t just about government policy and oil companies wanting to fatten their profits. It’s about the choices we make every day. Plastic comes from oil. So every time each one of us buys water in a plastic bottle, we become a part of that 1.5 million barrels of oil it takes to create the amount of bottled water this country consumes in a year.

Yes, we need better policies. Yes, the government could make it easier for green technology to succeed. But oil companies are rich beyond measure for a reason: someone’s buying their wares.

If you’re reading this blog, I’m assuming you’re at least somewhat knowledgeable about environmental issues. You’ve probably heard over and over again the standard tips: drive less, turn down your thermostat, reduce your consumption (of stuff, of plastic, of water). Sometimes we can hear things so much that we forget there are reasons why the old stand-bys exist. There are numbers behind them, and like words, numbers have consequences, too.

Tips are great and can be useful. But every now and then, it’s important to step back and look at why. Often, the reason is more staggering than we realized.

Photo Credit: elycefeliz

Greener Spaces: Your Home Office

4196043770 7a4405bb42 Greener Spaces: Your Home Office

Most of us have some type of home office space. You may run a business from your home or have a suzhou job that allows you to telecommute.  Or you may have an office-like space where you keep bill-paying supplies, incoming mail, papers, scissors, etc. But no matter what kind of office you have, you can probably make the space a little greener.

The goal is not only to make more environmentally responsible choices, but also to make things easier for you. If I’ve learned anything from setting yearly goals, it’s that if the particulars don’t work with your life as it is, then nothing’s going to change.

Try these ideas for a greener office space:

1. Pay your bills online and opt-out of paper statements wherever possible.

Not only does this prevent a lot of paper waste, it frees up space and clutter in your home. By setting up automatic payments, you can take care of most, if not all, of your monthly bills with little time and effort.

2. When you must buy paper, choose recycled.

There may be times when you need to do some printing or send something by snail mail. If possible, choose paper and envelopes made with recycled content. Recycled paper products have become much easier to find in mainstream stores.

3. Reuse when you can.

Do you really need to buy a dedicated (and likely plastic) trash can for your office space? Would something else work? For a while I was collecting old crocks and now I have a number of them around my house. I’ve used them for everything from small trash cans to receipt storage.

Will an old mug or jar suffice for a pen/pencil cup?

Rather than tossing old file folders, why not re-label and reuse the ones you have?

I’ve said before that leading a greener lifestyle is really about paying attention and thinking about your habits. The next time you use your home office space, pay attention as you go through your regular activities. Where can you reduce clutter and waste? What steps can you take to avoid buying more?

What things have you done to make your home office space and routines more green?

Photo Credit: Machine is Organic