Improving Your Spoons (Part Two)

By Bill Gillham

Dealing with bowls that are scratched or have black specks in them.

Those who knew him will recognise the influence of Martin Gubbins in what follows. Probably several of the spoons sold when his collection came up at Phillips/Bonhams last year had been 'Martinised' - a recognised term amongst his many friends. But he was scrupulous as to the limits of legitimate improvements and I hope that I remain true to his precepts.

Scratches and those irritating black specks mostly occur inside the bowl. Let us deal with scratches first.

Now bowls do get lightly scratched in normal use and these are the marks of the passage of time, which are part of a spoon's character. The same applies to antique furniture: we do not want them to look 'like new'.

What I am referring to are unsightly scratches that detract from aesthetic appeal and, in my case, this has only arisen on one occasion when I bought a lot of Channel Island spoons at Phillips which contained one rarity; and a perfectly collectable bright-cut tablespoon by Jacques Quesnel which had a couple of scratches that even to the naked eye looked like furrows in the bowl. Since this spoon is now a worthy member of my collection it is worth recounting the story of its rehabilitation.

Step One: With a piece of very fine emery paper, I rubbed the scratches in particular, but also rubbed over the ~ interior of the bowl (so that the treated area, which had most attention, would not stand out). What you are doing is taking away a minimal amount of silver (you will see it on the emery paper) such as might be lost in normal wear. At this stage the offending deep scratches are less in evidence but the bowl is scratched all over in a different, and finer, way.

Step Two: You polish the bowl to reduce these overall scratches but not so as to eliminate them entirely - you want it to look used. To polish them you can either use jeweller's rouge (ferrous oxide) mixed to a paste or Brasso. Silversmiths regularly use this old friend to eliminate scratches occurring during the process of making.

Do not polish too vigorously and it is a good idea to polish a little, then wash it off and see what you think. What you will quickly find is that although the deep scratches have not gone they are much less evident.

Step Three: Oxidise the surface using the bleach and dip technique described in part one of this series.

What about black specks? Well the Gubbins technique was to take a tiny amount of Auto-chrome polish on the end of a sharpened matchstick and rub just on the speck. This works well but you are left with a slightly abraded area that also looks too bright.

What I now do is to fill the bowl with Goddard's Silver Dip and work at the spots with a cocktail stick while the dip is doing its stuff. This is probably okay for smallish specks. The more stubborn ones will probably need the Gubbins technique. Incidentally, I assume that these specks are tiny pieces of steel from the spoon stake on which the bowl was hammered.

Next instalment: taking dents out of bowls and dealing with curled edges.

The Finial, April/May 2003

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