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Home Design with Kevin Sharkey

Polishing Your Silver & My Favorite Antique Silverware and Dessert Servers

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Many people stow their silver in the back of a cabinet until the tarnish is so bad that the idea of polishing is insurmountable, it stays there for another Thanksgiving. But why not use it more -- silver is wonderful for day to day use and certainly makes a smart and beautiful holiday tabletop.

I love the look of silver! I do not wait for a holiday to break them out, I try to use it every day. The addition of silver to the simplest place setting instantly ups the glam factor. However, the glam factor comes at a price ... Polishing, like ironing, I have always found shining silver to be very relaxing -- I love the instant gratification.

Here's a quick and easy homemade silver polish how to (DIY Silver Polishing). This tip will come in handy for those hard-to-clean spots on your forks (and all you need is your polish and a piece of cotton twine).

Over the years, Martha Stewart Living has featured  gorgeous  silverware -- from dessert servers to cutlery to carving forks, these meticulously designed pieces of silverware look stunning on your table and will become cherished keepsakes.

With Thanksgiving quickly approaching, I think everyone should be prepared and realize that whether its a pair of candlesticks or a simple bowl of fruit, silver has a lot to bring to the table.

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Dessert servers sometimes suffer from a case of mistaken identity, as they look remarkably similar to items such as crumbers or jelly trowels. You can usually identify a dessert server by its flat blade and triangular shape.

1 Dessert servers sometimes suffer from a case of mistaken identity, as they look remarkably similar to items such as crumbers or jelly trowels. You can usually identify a dessert server by its flat blade and triangular shape.

Ceramic servers, such as this mid-20th-century one with a red floral motif, right, were often sold with matching cake plates. Easily breakable, they are a rare find.

2 Ceramic servers, such as this mid-20th-century one with a red floral motif, right, were often sold with matching cake plates. Easily breakable, they are a rare find.

The natural world has frequently made its way to the table, in the form of dessert servers crafted from materials such as horn, ivory, and wood. The minimalist example, sixth from bottom, was made entirely from horn in Italy.

3 The natural world has frequently made its way to the table, in the form of dessert servers crafted from materials such as horn, ivory, and wood. The minimalist example, sixth from bottom, was made entirely from horn in Italy.

The spade-shaped silver-plate server, far right, was made by Tiffany in the 1880s. Because of its desirable name, the piece can fetch a few hundred dollars (others pictured here go for far less).

4 The spade-shaped silver-plate server, far right, was made by Tiffany in the 1880s. Because of its desirable name, the piece can fetch a few hundred dollars (others pictured here go for far less).

This server is by Chase Brass & Copper, a company that mass-produced high-design pieces in the 1930s and '40's. Because so many were made, they are still easy to find.

5 This server is by Chase Brass & Copper, a company that mass-produced high-design pieces in the 1930s and '40's. Because so many were made, they are still easy to find.

With ornate blades and handles, some servers are as dazzling as wedding cakes. The server at the far left was engraved using a technique called bright cutting. A practice that originated in 18th-century England, it involves cutting facets to create a sparkle.

6 With ornate blades and handles, some servers are as dazzling as wedding cakes. The server at the far left was engraved using a technique called bright cutting. A practice that originated in 18th-century England, it involves cutting facets to create a sparkle.

The subtler decoration on the 1880s server, fourth from right, was created by acid etching using a stencil. Austrian and German servers, such as the one in the center, are slender because the pastries and tortes made in those countries tend to be small.

7 The subtler decoration on the 1880s server, fourth from right, was created by acid etching using a stencil. Austrian and German servers, such as the one in the center, are slender because the pastries and tortes made in those countries tend to be small.

Dessert servers weren't made until the mid-19th century, but many designers took their cues from 18th-century flatware; indeed, some servers even look like wide-blade knives.

8 Dessert servers weren't made until the mid-19th century, but many designers took their cues from 18th-century flatware; indeed, some servers even look like wide-blade knives.

They come in sterling and silver plate, bone and bakelite. Dessert servers make easy, elegant collectibles. But using them as intended is the sweetest reward.

9 They come in sterling and silver plate, bone and bakelite. Dessert servers make easy, elegant collectibles. But using them as intended is the sweetest reward.

Large late-19th-century serving utensils, used for pies and pastries, are ornately decorated and come in a variety of imaginative shapes, including a helmet, far right.

10 Large late-19th-century serving utensils, used for pies and pastries, are ornately decorated and come in a variety of imaginative shapes, including a helmet, far right.

Bright-cut napkin rings bring a touch of brilliance to the dinner hour. By the 1870's, napkin rings had evolved from simple, unadorned bands to ovals, barrels, and octagons lavishly engraved with botanical patterns and other fanciful, minutely crafted designs.

11 Bright-cut napkin rings bring a touch of brilliance to the dinner hour. By the 1870's, napkin rings had evolved from simple, unadorned bands to ovals, barrels, and octagons lavishly engraved with botanical patterns and other fanciful, minutely crafted designs.

The designs on these slender Georgian silver teaspoons from the late 18th century are confined to the hands and edges.

12 The designs on these slender Georgian silver teaspoons from the late 18th century are confined to the hands and edges.

Victorians treasured sumptuous hand-engraved silver.

13 Victorians treasured sumptuous hand-engraved silver.

These butter and dessert knives, along with a large ice cream knife, center, represent a variety of styles, including delicate Japanese-inspired motifs, geometrics, and patterns that mix flowers, leaves and vines.

14 These butter and dessert knives, along with a large ice cream knife, center, represent a variety of styles, including delicate Japanese-inspired motifs, geometrics, and patterns that mix flowers, leaves and vines.

A silver-plate teapot and creamer from the late 1880s; bright-cut patterns decorate both sides of the hollowware.

15 A silver-plate teapot and creamer from the late 1880s; bright-cut patterns decorate both sides of the hollowware.

A Victorian silver-plate basket has bamboo-shaped handles inspired by the Far East.

16 A Victorian silver-plate basket has bamboo-shaped handles inspired by the Far East.

These late-Victorian spoons are embellished with intricate butterflies and flowers; the larger one is washed with a thin layer of gold.

17 These late-Victorian spoons are embellished with intricate butterflies and flowers; the larger one is washed with a thin layer of gold.

Most steels were sold as part of carving sets because of a love of matching flatware. The idea was that they would be used at the table to hone the knife in front of everyone -- a grand flourish to start off the ritual carving.

18 Most steels were sold as part of carving sets because of a love of matching flatware. The idea was that they would be used at the table to hone the knife in front of everyone -- a grand flourish to start off the ritual carving.

This American silver-plate set from the 1920's features a then-popular streamlined design: the Patrician pattern, produced by a company called Community. A 5-piece set can be used to carve a variety of roasts.

19 This American silver-plate set from the 1920's features a then-popular streamlined design: the Patrician pattern, produced by a company called Community. A 5-piece set can be used to carve a variety of roasts.

Larger than carving forks, these utensils are meant to lift roasts and other heavy meats, and to steady them while you carve. They were usually sold separately from carving sets.

20 Larger than carving forks, these utensils are meant to lift roasts and other heavy meats, and to steady them while you carve. They were usually sold separately from carving sets.

Blades come in a variety of shapes and metals. The multitude of designs -- from the dashingly pointed saber blades (second and third from left) to the subtly curved scimitar blade (fourth from left) -- is less about utility than whatever was fashionable at the time.

21 Blades come in a variety of shapes and metals. The multitude of designs -- from the dashingly pointed saber blades (second and third from left) to the subtly curved scimitar blade (fourth from left) -- is less about utility than whatever was fashionable at the time.

Spanning more than 100 years, these handles show a fascinating array of materials. A real ivory handle, such as the twirled one with the sterling-silver Renaissance-revival top (center left), was the most coveted.

22 Spanning more than 100 years, these handles show a fascinating array of materials. A real ivory handle, such as the twirled one with the sterling-silver Renaissance-revival top (center left), was the most coveted.

A wooden-knobbed tea caddy.

23 A wooden-knobbed tea caddy.

The lion-head wine cooler was an extremely popular form.

24 The lion-head wine cooler was an extremely popular form.

Here is a water urn with an ivory-topped spigot.

25 Here is a water urn with an ivory-topped spigot.

The popularity of tea parties in the 18th century moved entertaining from inns and taverns into private homes, creating a demand for fine pieces with which to serve hot beverages and various foods.

26 The popularity of tea parties in the 18th century moved entertaining from inns and taverns into private homes, creating a demand for fine pieces with which to serve hot beverages and various foods.

This beautiful silver sugar dish has a beautiful engraving of initials.

27 This beautiful silver sugar dish has a beautiful engraving of initials.

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Comments (4)

  • Hi Kevin,
    Thank you for an informative post! love the easy homemade silver polish how to DIY Silver Polishing. I use Goddard's products silver polish foam and the silver polish liquid.

  • So true, Kevin.
    I started using my silver and crystal daily about five years ago. Why wait for a special occasion?
    I also find polishing silver good for the soul.

  • Thanks for the great "string" tip, Kevin. It works wonderfully!

  • It WORKED! I've been using toothpaste for years but I think it's too abrasive. Thanks.

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