Personal Effects, March 25

By Jerry Sampson

Contributing writer

Question: Jerry, Does anybody use silver tea sets these days or do they just collect dust and tarnish? This monogrammed tea service sat on my grandparents’ sideboard. I only saw it used once — for their 50th wedding anniversary party.

There are a series of stamps on the bottom of the teapot beginning with the number 4 and a little pennant that says W & H. Beneath that is “Walker and Hall, Sheffield, England.” Beneath that is stamped A-1, then PATENT, and a word that looks like GRATE.

Lastly it says Warranted Hardsilver Soldered, followed by 55, then the number 4 again.

What does all that mean? The handles and lids of the teapot and coffee pot are made of some black material which has become gray and dull over the years. If I learn more about the set, I may be inspired to keep it polished!

Answer: You know there was a time that the “lady of the house” or an entire family was judged by its tea set or the lack there of. A tea set was a necessary piece of entertaining equipment. You entertained in years past, the preacher, the mayor and his wife, social clubs and other important people that you wanted to impress with your style and material gains.

There was a reason that teas sets and other items like punch sets, flatware services and lemonade services were given as wedding gifts — they were expensive and were needed for proper homes.

All of this has faded away with modern times and modern living. Today, more entertaining takes place around an outdoor grill, the kitchen table or (gasp) a restaurant.

There is a small clutch of people who enjoy and even look forward to entertaining in a grand manner. They can be very serious and passionate. However, they are not widespread and for that reason tea sets, at least in my store, languish, waiting for a good home.

Lovers of English teas are also supportive, but even those people lean towards fine quality porcelain tea equipage.

The fact is, people just don’t want to polish silver. They don’t have the time to polish and they don’t have the help to polish, so they don’t and they don’t care to keep it around.

I’m speaking mostly about silver plated pieces, like your set.

On the flip side, sterling silver sells! But I think that its appeal is a mixture of beauty, form AND intrinsic value. Silver plate, not so much.

The term Hardsilver is just an advertising ploy. I’ve found silver plate and silver colored metals called many names like, Alaska Silver, Nebraska Silver, Brazil Silver and on and on. All it means is that your silver is plated or is a white metal.

It’s got to be from an early period or marked sterling for values to start snapping. It’s hard to tell from photos but your handles should be a black stained wood. Over time, it fades.

You might try to polish with a dark or ebony wax. I have been known to use a black sharpie with good results too.

A professional polish and lacquer job also offers a great solution, but it does have its draw backs. Mostly that it only will last for four or five years and it’s not inexpensive.

I love the Georgian look of your tea and coffee set. It’s classy and timeless. I’d say that the age of your set is likely the early 1900s to the 1920s. Sadly, as beautiful as it is, in a retail store if might have a price tag of $150 attached to it. Thanks for a great question.