The Secret Life of Antiques | Collecting Antique Silver


Especially during autumn months filled with intimate dinner parties and holiday feasts, your table is a creative canvas where you can display the silver treasures you’ve gathered over the years. The tradition of Fine Dining is once again au courant, and more of us appreciate a beautifully set table. Discover the lasting beauty of fine antique table silver. I call silver the “Jewelry for your tabletop.”


When I was asked to write about table silver for the October Issue of Romantic Homes Magazine, I gathered some of my very favorite antique silver pieces from my shop and had an autumn photo shoot to display them in all their glory.



I admit that usually I am more inclined to use soft, romantic shades of flowers in my arrangements here at home, but for these photos, the golden yellow roses mixed with autumn russet alstroemeria seemed so fitting.



Arranged with fresh eucalyptus clipped from our front garden, and those delicate chamomile petit fleurs, I think it’s the perfect compliment to the antique silver sugar bowl I placed them in.



Silver, sterling or plate, closely associated with elegant dinner table settings, has a history that goes farther back than the gleaming silver we remember from our childhood holiday table. In fact, the tradition of sitting down for an enjoyable meal with family and friends dates back as far as civilization, but dining tables were not set with silver until the early 19th century.


During the Renaissance knives were the only utensils used during meals, along with a wooden spoon. Forks were introduced as early as the 11th century, but were extremely controversial, scandalous, and considered heretical, not gaining widespread favor in Europe until well into the 18th century.


It wasn’t until the 1800’s that dining came into “the gilded age” and silver for the table was plentiful.  Wealthy hostesses of the 1800’s set their tabes with lustrous silver serving dishes, and a bewildering assortment of flatware. A single place setting at a formal dinner might have included at least eight different forks, eight knives, numerous spoons, a butter pick, game shears, nut picks, asparagus tongs, and salts.


I love the fun of having each napkin wear its own, different gleaming collar or bracelet. Antique and vintage napkin rings gleam in the light of your dazzling chandelier and candle light.


What to Collect:

Collect what you love and appeals to you, a glorious mix of bowls, tureens, ladles, and silverware that pays homage to your personal style. Mixed in with what you already own, these elegant luxuries add glamour to your table’s setting. Collectors love sterling silver, as it keeps its value. But a collection of silver plate will bring just as much beauty to your table.


Elegant, sophisticated and long lasting, silver serving bowls, domes, and flatware elevate any setting to party status. We have a great advantage over our ancestors in that we can enjoy the beautiful silver pieces they did, but we are not stuck with their rules. While our grandmother would never mix and match place settings, or combine antique silver with contemporary dishes, today we enjoy all the charm antique silver brings to our table free from those rules.




What to Look For:

Quality. Become familiar with high quality. Sterling is almost always marked, either with the word STERLING or the Lion Passant. Do your research, you can find most sterling maker’s marks on the internet. Most plated silver from the 1800’s is marked Quadruple Plated. If you love a piece and want to use it for serving, but it is corroded inside, consider having a silversmith replace the interior.


Style. Opt for designs you love. Pieces with a logo, monogram, or beautiful hand chased floral engravings add charm. It doesn’t all have to match, if you love it, it will work together.


Condition. Buy silver in good condition. I suggest you buy silver that has been polished, especially silver-plate, that way you can see how much loss to the plating there is. Some loss is fine, but most of the silver should be there.  Do remember these pieces are often over 100 years old, and will not be perfect. That’s part of their charm.


You can start enjoying antique silver in small ways, perhaps you are fortunate enough to have inherited your grandmother’s silver, or received the gift of a set of six spoons.  Set your well-appointed table with pleasure, it will bring people together and provide comfort as well as joy.


Fun Fact: Silver is toxic to bacteria, viruses, molds, fungi, spores and other unpopular micro-organisms. A spoon made of silver naturally fights bacteria and viruses.

rhtablesilverfgh11a Shop Antique & Vintage Silver Here

Read about how to polish and take care of your silver HERE

Do you like to polish your silver? Or are you one of the many who love the patina of unpolished silver at your table?


Shop for the best in French Antiques, furniture with the patina of age, vintage accessories to delight you and your family & friends, and French Country utilitarian pieces. Treasures that make your home fresh, beautiful, inspirational and uniquely yours. Visit our shop

27 thoughts on “The Secret Life of Antiques | Collecting Antique Silver”

  1. Ginger Valdes

    Hi Lidy, I always love when my silver plate is polished, but then I love it all over again when it gets a bit tarnished. It’s like a handsome, clean shaven man. Gorgeous. Then he gets a little scruffy while doing weekend duties. Again, gorgeous! The mix of flowers is stunning. Those Alstroemerias really give a lot of bang for your buck!

  2. First of all the flowers are lovely – so colorful and Fall-ish. What a great article this AM. I love beautiful silver! Thanks for sharing your expertise!

    1. Thank you Vicky, I’m so glad you enjoyed the article and photographs, too! Wishing you a happy day today, friend.

    LOVE the FUN FACT!I did not know that!
    YOU Must POP over to MY BLOG POST TODAY!
    As I left some SILVER for another person…………in RHODE ISLAND!!!!!!

  4. Cynthia White

    I love these gorgeous pieces you’ve shared in the photographs. When I was a young married (early 1980’s), I inherited some silver pieces which I loved, but HATED to polish. . .now, I don’t mind so much, and have put those back on display. Today, I am able to afford a nice piece of silver now and then, so collecting it is enjoyable. I love the gleam of polished silver, but occasionally I don’t mind tarnish.

    1. Thank you for your visit, Cynthia. Isn’t it so interesting how we change what we love over the years? I love to polish silver now, and silver seems to be gaining in popularity again,
      I sell more silver than ever before on my website! Collecting IS enjoyable, especially when using these lovely old pieces at dinners and other gatherings with those we love,
      don’t you agree?

  5. I adore silver, I love antique sterling candlesticks on the kitchen table, mixed with a vase of fresh flowers, somehow the sophistication of the silver with the casual walnut table in a working kitchen looks so good together. I prefer my silver to be polished, especially cutlery. The best way to clean cutlery is to line a glass baking dish (not a metal one) with aluminium foil, sprinkle the bottom with some baking soda and then pour on boiling water. Then lay the silver in the dish so that it is completely covered in water but so that the pieces do not touch each other. The most amazing reaction will occur and the tarnish will be lifted off before your eyes. Rinse the cutlery in warm soapy water. No nasty chemicals because who would want to eat using utensils cleaned with harsh chemicals? This is how I clean all my cutlery. Love this post, have a great week and congrats on the magazine article 🙂 x

    1. Thanks for popping in from France, Susan! I love to hear that you, like me, use your silver every day!

  6. I love to polish my silver collection. I set aside one day every year to polish all of it. That way I get to love on each and every piece and remember where I purchased it. Usually I do this just prior to decorating for Christmas. It makes the entire house sparkle and my friends say lovely things about it.

    1. What a wonderful idea, Alice! I too love to polish my silver in anticipation of the holidays, it’s so rewarding!

  7. Mary Noel

    Gosh! I hate to polish silver, but I inherited my grandmother’s silverplate flatware set, a service for 8 of some pattern with grapes and numerous serving pieces, all with grapes, but several different patterns. What is the best way to polish silver (I’m guessing that it’s not the one where you just dip the piece into a bottle of some liquid)? Once it’s polished, what’s the best way to keep it pretty? Thanks for your delightful blog, BTW!

    1. Hi Mary, I added a link to a post I wrote awhile ago about taking care of and polishing silver at the bottom of this post. How fortunate that you inherited your grandmother’s silver service! {I polish my silver while catching up with whatever latest Netflix series or movie I’m loving} The dips are totally out, they strip your silver and make it dull. I almost cry whenever I see a gorgeous piece of antique silver ruined by this dipping method.

  8. There’s something so methodical and therapeutic about polishing silver. I don’t have much, but I do love to polish it up and use it around the holidays. Your silver and flowers are stunning. Thanks for sharing. Happy week to you. Toodles, Kathryn

  9. I’m going to gush here a minute Lidy! This post is absolutely the most alluring, beautiful and informative post I’ve seen and read! It could because I love vintage and antique silver or it could be your photography, or even the knowledge I gained reading this post…but put all together, it is one that I have to bookmark and go back and read time and time again!
    Your photos are just so stunning, not to mention the amazing pieces you have shared!
    Okay, now I’m done gushing 🙂
    sending hugs,

  10. I have always loved setting the table with special linen, the ‘good dishes’, and silver. Over the recent years I’ve learned to use my silver pieces (and dishes) in other ways around the house. Flowers flowing out of silver teapots is a frequent look around the house.
    I’ve bought several silver meat domes online and they sit out on the kitchen sideboard every day – I love the look.
    I agree with several other readers – polishing the silver is therapeutic, and I like the look of the shine.

    What are the silver pieces in the two pictures (images 10 & 11) – with the beautiful cut silver flowers on them? These are so pretty.
    Great information about silver cutlery and bacteria – a good reason to use it more often.

  11. What a gorgeous post, Lidy! I love collecting old silver; and I get such a joy out of polishing old pieces that I find in antique shops. Your pieces are exquisite!

  12. What a gorgeous collection of silver, Lidy. The Antique Ladies Kennel Trophy is a favorite piece and the flatware is exquisite! I was lucky enough to inherit an 1800’s silver service that is one of my favorite things…happy Thursday!

  13. You have such an incredible eye for collecting such beautiful pieces Lidy! The individual beauty of each piece is astonishing along with their value.

    1. Thank you Jan! Most of these pieces are pieces we sell at FrenchGardenHouse, but until they sell, they’re mine!

  14. Gorgeous pieces!! I like both the tarnished look and polished silver, but looking at your beautifully, polished pieces, maybe I should get un-lazy and do some polishing. 😉

    1. Thanks for your visit Wanda! I polish mine while watching a great Netflix binge…

  15. I am in awe of your collection. I just starting collecting silver. I am enjoying the beauty and wish each piece could tell their story. Thanks for the inspiration. Have a wonderful week.

    1. Thank you Meegan. Of course that is not my personal collection, only until one of my clients buys it! 😉

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