60-Second Silver: The sad reality of weighted silver

You just forced a candle into one of the candle cups of a weighted silver, two-arm candelabra. What you didn’t expect to experience was the arm being ripped from its stem.

Have you ever polished a candlestick and wondered what that rattling noise was? I know all too well what that sound is: it’s cement (most commonly pitch, which is made from various percentages of pine resin and plaster) that was poured into the object, which reduced in volume as it cooled, creating a void. This will allow pieces of this brittle material to break off and rattle inside that space.

Weighted sterling may also contain lead, wax, sand, or some other material for support. Since the sterling is very thin (I’ve measured metal thickness as thin as .003 inch), there is then not enough support for that area of your object to withstand a dent when lightly tapped against a hard surface.

You’ll also find pitch inside most dresser brushes and hand mirrors that probably show signs of denting from even the most cautious user. You may have seen a dresser brush with very deep embossing, revealing a cherub with a hole in its nose. At that very point, the material may have been only .002-inch thick when it came out of the factory.

Sliding the brush over a dressing table a few times and heavy-handed polishing may have been all it took to wear through that nose. If these pieces were not weighted, they would almost collapse! If you are the victim of one of these pieces, I know your frustration.

What you may not be aware of is that although your candelabra may weigh a hefty four pounds (64 ounces), in reality it contains only about 6.4 ounces (5.83 troy ounces) of sterling! Simplified, this means your candelabra is composed of 10 percent sterling and 90 percent pitch. So, if you wanted to scrap that candelabra using a $10 silver market, the refiner would pay you no more than $48. Something else to keep in mind: Many refiners will also charge a refining fee of $50 or more. You just lost two dollars! Stunned? You’re not alone.

Welcome to the sad reality of weighted sterling. When the silver companies first introduced objects that were made of this paper-thin sterling, they intended on making utilitarian holloware and dresserware that was more affordable to the mass-market. Though you may have thought you were purchasing a quality piece of silver, it later turned out to be nothing but aggravation in its use and cleaning. ?

Jeffrey Herman encourages anyone with silver-related questions that can’t be answered on his Web site hermansilver.com to contact him. He may be reached at 800-339-0417or jeff@hermansilver.com or at PO Box 786, West Warwick, RI 02893.

Jeffrey Herman started Herman Silver Restoration & Conservation in 1984, and has repaired and reconstructed everything from historically important tankards, tea services, and tureens to disposal-damaged flatware. Herman has worked at Gorham as a designer, sample maker, and technical illustrator and at Pilz Ltd., where he learned the fine art of restoration. Herman has a BFA degree in silversmithing and is the founder of the Society of American Silversmiths.


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