Do you detect a general theme here? It boils down to – use what you are lucky enough to have. I’m not suggesting being unthinking and careless in the way one treats these pieces, but equally they should not be treated as precious darlings.
Antique and vintage silver is not liable to disintegrate at any moment.
We have established that they will survive in the dishwasher (with Clean Your Silver in the Dishwasher). I have even found an old Gorham catalog extolling the virtues of the “automatic dishwasher” for cleaning sterling. As polishing is, in my experience, the number one reason given in answer to the “why is it in the closet” question, we have handily slayed that dragon. Don’t forget the bonus that frequently used silver needs very little polishing.
In my house, where we use it every day – “very little” translates to “never”.
The other stumbling block for some people is the purpose for which these pieces were originally designed. Butter spreaders, asparagus tongs, sardine forks, mote spoons, knife rests, gravy vs. sauce ladles, the list goes on and on.
To digress for a moment, in the introduction of Phil Dries’s book Warman’s Sterling Silver Flatware he writes “One of my customers collects Versailles by Gorham and now has 108 different pieces per place setting and 135 different serving pieces.” The old rule of work from the outside in is raised to a new level when one thinks of 108 pieces per place setting. I wonder how many places settings this person has. Let’s see if it were a service for 8, that would mean 864 knives, forks and spoons!
Cynical it may seem, but 108 pieces?
Is it possible that perhaps the silver companies were taking advantage? “No, no a 4 o’clock spoon would not possibly do, my dear! You must also have the regular teaspoon, the 4 and 5 o’clock spoons.” Hmmm, the ancestors of Mad Men run amok. Evidently though, the concern over some breach of etiquette was enough to keep those pieces in production.
Alright, but what has this got to do with sardines you’re thinking?
Finally, here is the main point.
Emily Post, or any other etiquette stickler, is not going to leap out from under the table and rap you over the knuckles if you use a piece for a purpose other than the one it was “intended” for. Really, I promise. If that were the case, she’d be so busy with me that she wouldn’t have time to get to you.
So go ahead, be wild.
Use that toast rack to sort letters on your desk. That huge punch bowl will make a great place to force paperwhites this winter. That pearl handled toast fork will look superb against the smoked salmon. The lovely knife rests you inherited, well, they might look a bit overdone at each place setting, but they are very useful for keeping used serving spoons off the tablecloth.
Finally, one of my favorite pieces to reuse are those lovely, exquisite, irresistible sugar tongs. They’ve been just sitting there all sad and lonely, haven’t they? After all, when was the last time you kept sugar cubes in the house for afternoon tea? They are just the thing for meatballs, olives, little cheese cubes, any of those tiny things that annoyingly roll off the spoon and onto your carpet or refuse to stay still while you spear them with a fork. Firmly trapped by a pair of tongs – that’ll show them who’s the boss. To repurpose another famous marketing campaign – “try it, you’ll like it”.