Cynosure polishes up, repurposes silver

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 22, 2015

Beth Taylor, Cynosure program chairperson, shows her pre-Civil War sterling mustard pot at the Cynosure Club's January program meeting, "Serving up Silver."

Beth Taylor, Cynosure program chairperson, shows her pre-Civil War sterling mustard pot at the Cynosure Club’s January program meeting, “Serving up Silver.”

“A what? It does what? How old is vintage? Sterling or silver plated? How cool! These were just a few of the responses of the members of Andalusia’s Cynosure Club as they met for their January meeting. The program, “Serving up Silver” was presented by meeting hostess, Barbara Nichols. Members were asked to bring a favorite or unusual silver piece and be prepared to identify it, tell its function, and suggest a way to repurpose the piece for today’s less formal lifestyle.

As the group assembled in Mrs. Nichols’ home on January 14, she opened the program with facts and fiction about “serving with silver.” She differentiated between sterling, silver plate, platinum, white gold, and other silver alternative. Interestingly, she added, silver has been a part of societies since early biblical times. Its distinct appearance and shine, as well as its functionality and availability, have made it a desirable addition to homes forever. Mrs. Nichols shared that silver found its most popularity in Germany and England and during the American colonial period. Paul Revere was, along with his political prowess, a famous silver smith, hence Paul Revere Silver. She continued that during the thirties and forties, homemakers set the daily dinner table with silver flatware. Today, however, silver has been replaced with many alternatives that are cheaper, easier to store, and easier to clean, such as stainless steel, pewter, chrome, and others. Still, she suggested, if you have silver you should use it, in that sterling use enhances its patina. The program presenter’s remarks were followed by a tour of her home which had venues set up showing silver pieces that had been repurposed.

The formal dining room highlighted a dinner table set with silver pieces. However, it was not all the norm. Silver-plated hollowware platters had been creatively used as chargers for her Montclair by Lenox china. The ivory bone china displays a simple silver trim. The sterling flatware was La Scala by Gorham and is sterling, which is a mix of 93 percent silver and 7 percent copper. Silver-plated napkin rings held the linen napkins. The centerpieces were repurposed water pitcher and mint julep silver cups used as containers for white roses. The repurposed silver runner was a silver sequined, full bodied scarf. On the buffet, a silver-plated nut cup had been turned upside down and held a silver plated tray , forming a silver footed tray from which to serve petit fours. Two other silver trays served as platters for nuts and finger sandwiches in an effort to revisit menus common to those served in the fifties. The buffet was flanked with two cedar wreaths which had as the center, shallow, silver-plated hollowware bowls, giving a mirrored effect. Displayed on the bookshelves were vintage “black silver” pieces. Put simply, black silver pieces are very old, silver-plated hollowware pieces that over time have lost all of the silver plate. These pieces are usually more than 50 years and the silver plate rubbed off over time. A resurgence in “antiquing” has placed these items on a “pickers’ wish list.

The group toured other areas of the house where silver repurposing was evident. One in particular, the master bathroom, showed unique uses of the silver punch bowl as a towel holder, silver sugar dishes as make-up and soap dishes, standing silver chandeliers for decadent spa time, and an award-winning silver bowl now used to display silver Christmas balls.

Passing through the kitchen, the group stopped for a short demo on how to clean and care for silver. For the readers’ benefit it must be noted that ketchup can be used as a quick touch up for tarnished silver, chalk can be used to retard silver tarnishing ( just store a piece with the silver), and rubbing newly polished pieces with hair conditioner can also retard the tarnishing of silver. One final note, never store silver in newspaper, use felt or velvet instead.

The group returned to the den for a show and tell of the items members brought. Among the pieces displayed were ice cream forks, butter picks, a mustard cup, berry spoon, and a fish slicer. Susan Gantt wore a sterling spoon pin that had been representative of a family silver pattern. At one time, she explained, women wore their silver pattern pins often for social events.

Mrs. Nichols told the story of the sterling piece that her sister, Katy Sue Wells, had brought her as a wedding gift from the Silver Vaults of London. Mrs. Wells was the 1964 National Maid of Cotton and had visited London during her world tour. The piece was fashioned like a cake server, engraved with an S (from the family name who owned it), engraved wedding scene, and marked with Tiffany’s symbol. Mrs. Nichols used it in her wedding to cut the wedding cake. Years later, when her husband, Nick, worked for The Chubb Group, they were allowed to take pieces to the Antique Road Show (sponsored by The Chubb Foundation). Mrs. Nichols chose to take the cake server. Much to her delight, the appraiser identified the piece as a very elegant fish slicer used in a time when butlers and chefs assisted wealthy families with their dinner parties. The wonderful gift has cut many wedding cakes in the Nichols’ family.

Assisting Mrs. Nichols as co-hostess was Jeanie Metzger. A delightful menu of assorted petit fours, Mildred Hart’s cheese wafers, Susan Gantt’s toasted pecans, and open-faced tea sandwiches was served with coffee and iced water. And, of course, all was served on repurposed silver pieces.

Nancy Eldridge, president, conducted a short business meeting. Patricia Barnes, Cynosure’s trip chairperson, led the group in a discussion of the groups’ trip to Destin’s Kitchenique Culinary School in April for a chef’s culinary lesson and luncheon. And who knows, maybe, just maybe, it will include “Serving up Silver.”