Vintage Silver Knives
As most vintage silver knives are compound pieces, meaning the handle is made of sterling and the blade is made of something else, they are the most likely pieces of silver to need repair. That glue join is prone to come apart, especially after generations of use.
Vintage silver knives generally come with blades made of one of three materials.
Carbon steel – carbon steel blades are excellent for carving sets and cutting knives as they will sharpen to an absolutely wicked edge. No other material comes close to the edge a carbon blade will take, but unfortunately carbon blades are prone to rust without proper care. They must washed immediately after use, as damp food particles will cause rust. They should be thoroughly dried and stored in a dry environment. The occasional application of a food safe mineral oil is also not a bad idea. I have several carbon blade knives and think the additional care they need is worth it. Carbon steel, like silver, is also a ‘living finish’ it changes as it ages getting darker and developing its own patina.
Silverplate – silverplate blades offer the most uniform look with a sterling handle knife. The drawback to silverplate blades is that as we have discussed before, silverplate is comparatively delicate. The silver coating is only 1 micron or so thick. The silver coating will wear off the base metal, especially when the knives are used frequently. This leaves silverplate blades prone to developing spots where rust forms on the base metal. However, unlike carbon blades which you can scrub rust off and safely rejuvenate the blade, if you scrub a silverplate blade you will take off the plating.
Furthermore, sometimes we don’t know what the composition of the base metal is. It may well contain lead. I often wonder about this issue, especially when looking at new pieces of ‘vintage silver’ that are trendy at the moment (it also drives me round the twist that they are advertised as ‘vintage silver’. The gall of selling a piece of newly manufactured silverplate under the title ‘vintage silver’ simply astounds me!)
Stainless steel - finally we come to stainless steel. We are all familiar with the benefits of stainless. It’s durable, corrosion resistant and easy to care for. Do you know the modern alloy we now know as stainless steel was developed just before World War I? In 1912, researchers at the Brown-Firth laboratory in the UK were looking for a material to improve gun barrels and they developed martensitic stainless steel. This also makes stainless steel a good indicator of age. If it claims to be older than 1912 and has stainless steel as a component, make sure you know what you are buying!! (It’s funny, but my Masters degree in War Studies comes in handy more often than you would imagine!)
Getting replacement blades is not a big deal. Just about every good silversmith is able to do this. Some are even able to offer you a choice of blade materials and shapes. I have a set of knives in need of replacement blades right now. Vintage silver knives are almost always the most difficult place setting pieces to find because the handles and blades separate and people toss them away! Especially if you have a rare pattern, replace your blades…you don’t want to wait 40 years to find a new set. A client of mine looked for a set of knives for her pattern for 40 years! I had the good fortune to come across a set for her, so she could finally complete her flatware.
Perhaps this post will remind me to actually get mine done!