Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cheap Thrills: Silver, Elbow Grease

For months, I had my eye a small, silver-plated bucket in an antique shop on Charles Street. I couldn't figure out what it was originally used for, and I wasn't wild about the price: $85. But it was so pretty that I kept visiting it. The shopkeeper used it as a cachepot; a small flowerpot fits neatly inside.

I went on eBay, searching for silver-plated buckets. I discovered that it's an ice bucket, but not the kind that chills a bottle; it's sized to hold cubes or crushed ice for cocktails, and it once had matching tongs and a little perforated drain inside.

I managed to find a couple of inexpensive ice buckets on eBay that were identical to the one in the shop. But instead of looking shiny and perfect, they looked like this:


It's hard to know what you're getting when a piece is this tarnished. If the plate is worn down to the base metal, you're going to be disappointed after it's polished. On the other hand, you can get a bargain if you're willing to do the work yourself.

I hedged my bets by asking the dealer and if I could return the bucket if it turned out be missing any noticeable plating. She nicely agreed, and apologized for not polishing it herself. I paid $22 plus $10 shipping.

It arrived today and I was eager to get it into the kitchen for polishing. I love to polish silver — don't ask me why. It's hard work, it ruins your hands if you don't wear gloves, and I always forget to buy gloves at Back Bay Hardware. I was there last week, knowing I needed something, and left empty-handed because I couldn't remember what. Maybe next time, I'll notice my cracked, flaking hands and ask Eric or Lex for latex-free gloves.

After 45 minutes of rubbing like the dickens with Wright's Silver Cream (also via Back Bay Hardware), I had a beautiful, gleaming ice bucket with no signs of damage. An overdue polishing produces dramatic results, worth the effort and ruined hands:


I had forgotten how tough it is to remove ancient tarnish. I never let my own silver get that black. I was afraid I was going to remove the plating myself. I huffed and puffed and wore out the applicator sponge. (And I was already worn out: in gym class today, our instructor kept making us do planks and eight push-ups as "breaks" after he wrecked our shoulder, arm, and chest muscles with barbells and free weights. I can barely lift my glass of milk and cookies even now. But after all that agony, I can't feel guilty about the cookies.)

I remembered I had a glittery silk hydrangea spray, a Christmas clearance item from Pottery Barn a few years ago, which had never found a home. (Moment of silence for the Newbury Street store, a great place to waste time and money.) I popped the spray into the bucket and placed it on a pierced silver plate, a recent $20 find at the Cambridge Antiques Market that was serving no useful purpose. (That's a fun place to browse, by the way. With scores of dealers, it's reminiscent of Brimfield, minus apple fritters, sunburn, and dust.)

VoilĂ :

Fake flowers aren't my style, but this will do until I can pick up a potted primrose at the florist. (Update: Make that a Persian violet; primroses are toxic for cats.)

I should mention that we do buy things at the antique shop on Charles Street that gave me this idea. If we don't patronize our small, independent stores, they have a bad habit of going out of business. I try to do my part to keep my favorites going. I sent my husband there for my Christmas present this year and he obediently spent a bundle. We'll be shopping there again, I'm sure. But $85 for an ice bucket?

3 comments:

  1. Oh...love the before and after photos and the place for the lonely hydrangeas.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The pot is looking so cute abd shiney. I loved it. Can u please tell me how to remove sticky and grease oil strains on silver. I live in India.

    Thanks
    Padmini

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi Padmini,

    Here is a link with a lot of silver-cleaning information:

    http://www.silversmithing.com/care.htm

    You may not be able to find these products in your country, but he does say to try isopropyl alcohol (with gloves and ventilation) to remove sticky residue. Good luck!

    ReplyDelete

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