They are truly extraordinary and absolutely safe for viewing at work! Acid etch silver is unlike most forms of decoration on silver. Most decorations are applied via a physical process, such as the pushing of repousse, removal of silver via engraving, or the application of a separate piece through cast and applied decoration. However, there is one process that achieves it’s fine results via a chemical reaction – acid etch silver. By using the acid etch process, silversmith are able to create very detailed images on silver. These days it is a technique mostly used on silver jewelry. Every so often, a piece (or two) crosses my desk which uses this technique.
Acid Etch Silver
These two pieces are in the Les Six Fleurs pattern by Reed & Barton, designed in 1901. As one would expect the handles are a riot of flowers. On these two pieces however, there is an unusual addition. An acid etch design appears on the blades of both pieces. My research has not turned up any other pieces in this pattern with the etching. I have found pierced variations, but not acid etch.
As the name implies, the technique uses an acid (often nitric acid) to literally eat away at the silver to create the image. Great care must be taken when using this process – the strength of the acid bath, time, temperature, and how well the image template has been applied – can all affect the end result. In addition great care must be taken so the people doing the work are not hurt by the fumes. This was not a forgiving way to decorate silver. A mistake in the acid bath could result in the entire piece needing to be scrapped.
Happily, these pieces survived the creative process and the last 111 years for us to see them in their glory.
The asparagus fork features an iris and ribbon image. The fish slice depicts daffodils.The etched images are almost photographic in their precision and detail.
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Do you have any acid etch pieces?