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I have an unexpected dilemma regarding a tea service that I bought recently, and was hoping that someone with more knowledge in this area than myself could give me some advice.
I bought a five piece silver plated set (large teapot, smaller teapot, cream, sugar and some kind of urn) at an auction recently, and got it at a really good price because a significant amount of the silver appeared to be worn through-- black marks all over most of the pieces. When I got it home I decided to clean it, since the set appeared to have been buried for some length of time (filthy!), and much to my surprise the black marks started coming off-- and there is silver underneath. SO-- once I got enough dirt off to read the marks on the bottom I did some research and it was made by Redfield & Rice, and I believe that it says the date Feb 3 '69 on the bottom of the large teapot (a little hard to read). It turns out that my $10 tea set that I was going to put plants in is actually 140 years old. So now my question is, what should I do with it? I wouldn't mind putting some time into restoring it myself, but I don't want to damage the pieces by mistake (since I've never tried to clean old silver before). I dont have the resources to have it professionally done, and I dont know how much that would cost or what the value of the set is anyway-- all I've been able to find about the maker is that they were in business as Redfield & Rice for 9 years in the 1860s and then went bankrupt. Can anyone please give me some advice?? The set is in good shape other than the tarnishing and a small area of scratching from my cleaning it before I realized what was happening (whoops)-- I would hate to see it further damaged by my own ignorance.
First let me congratulate you on your wonderful find. It is unusual to find a five piece of anything in early silver. It is likely what is known as "Coin silver" and not sterling. This does not detract from it's value or importance. To clean the silver will require patience and quality non abrasive silver polish, Hagerty is one of the brands. Do not use a dip! It may take several tries to remove most of the tarnish. Try not to remove the dark areas in recesses of design.
I would love to see images of the pieces and the marks if possible. Your $10 purchase is probably worth several times that.
I must retract my quick assessment of your teaset. I am not certain that what you acquired is coin silver or silverplate. This firm made many plated items. It is certainly worth much more than the ten dollars you paid. If you can send me an image of the set and marks I might be able to help further.
Since I came here asking questions, I thought I'd try to contribute, as well. In your description of the tea set you bought (what a lucky find!), you said it consisted of: "large teapot, smaller teapot, cream, sugar and some kind of urn." The large tea pot is probably a coffee pot....they are taller and narrower, tea pots are lower and wider. The urn is likely a waste bowl. When they steeped tea leaves in the tea pot, they poured it out into the cup through a silver strainer....and dumped the escaping leaves into the waste bowl. It was also used to pour out cooled tea when you got a fresh cup. I can't remember if you rinse out a silver teapot before making the tea; I know you do a china one. Some tea sets also included a hot water kettle, on a stand over a candle to keep the water hot. You learn stuff like this growing up in the South....or at least you used to. :-)
Thanks for the info!