My husband snapped this shot over Christmas. I tried to celebrate our abundance of pretty things by using what we already owned for decoration.
Silver makes a great family collectible because it doesn't break (though sterling can dent). It adds life and shine to a room, and some pieces can even increase in value.
Almost any secondhand silver you find will be a bargain compared to what you can buy in department stores today. Here are my quick and dirty guidelines for buying secondhand silver:
Sterling silver is marked .925 or STERLING. Sterling is more expensive than silver plate. If you sift through the flatware bins at Goodwill, you can sometimes find sterling for 39 cents or less. I like to find long handled ice tea spoons and serving spoons for buffets.
Weight is not an indication of quality, because sterling is lighter than silverplate. However, I do think older pieces marked "quadruple plate" or "silver over copper" tend to be higher quality than modern silverplate.
Don't pay too much unless you know what it is worth. When you see silver marked the price of plastic, it's safe to indulge! I bought a meat carving platter for what I would have paid for a disposable version at Walmart.
Avoid anything stamped "International Silver" or "Made In India." These are guaranteed to be thinly plated over a cheap base metal which won't polish well.
On the flip side, items with British hallmarks are almost always of value.
How To Clean Old Silver:
If a piece is heavily tarnished, you can dip it first in a solution like Tarn-off, then polish with a silver cream like Wright's. (After this initial cleaning, you can use regular silver polish as needed.)
For light or everyday tarnish, polish with silver cream whenever the item darkens. Rinse with hot hot water and dry. Buff with a soft cloth, like an old flannel.