Thursday, June 6, 2013

Hurricane Sandy's Effects on Silverware

A lot of us on the East Coast felt the effects of Hurricane Sandy, whether it was the torrential rainfall or the maelstrom winds, there was quite a bit of destruction left in her wake.  And as human beings often do, we cleaned up the mess and resumed our daily lives, quick to forget the chaos that was inflicted.  However, for many, Sandy had much more lingering effects.  Sandy is still a looming dark cloud to those who owned homes along the Jersey Shore who had to abandon their belongings and head inland for drier land.  Still today, they are waiting for a certificate of occupancy that will deem it safe for them to venture back into their homes and access the loss and damage.

In our shop in Philadelphia, we had a client wander in who did indeed own a shore house up in New Jersey.  Earlier this year, she was allowed to go back to her house to see what became of it.  Sure enough locked away in a safe in her garage was her entire collection of silverware.  Over 170 pieces of silver wrapped up in clothe that had become damp with salt water due to the fact her house was underwater for quite a bit of time.  She was dumbstruck by what she found.  Like most people, she assumed metal to be the epitome of strength, that nothing could possibly damage it.  Instead she was faced with silver streaked with black tarnish that does not wipe off.  She tried googling a solution to her affliction online to no avail. Soaking in baking soda, vinegar, and all other do-it-yourself remedies simply did not remove the darkness.  So she came to us.

What she has come across is Silver Sulphide, a tarnish that is a covalent bond that occurs between silver and sulpher.  This happens when silver comes in contact with a chemical compound, in this case salt water, and it is induced into a low oxidization state where sulpher gets negatively charged  and becomes sulphide.  That sulphide is what bonds to silver causing the black streaking.  On an atomic level, her silverware has changed, so no home remedy is going to take that away. 

Fortunately, hers is a simple solution. We have successfully been removing the tarnish by deeply polishing each piece, taking off that top layer of silver sulphide to reveal the untouched silver underneath.  Luckily we were able to salvage her beautiful collection and I hope she puts it to good use with a dinner party to celebrate.