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The Professional Picture Framers Association is an internationally-recognized trade association for the custom framing industry.

Silver heirlooms

Do you have a beautiful silver heirloom you’d like to custom frame in an elegant shadow box – perhaps Grandma’s silver teapot, a set of silver spoons, jewelry or some other precious silver family heirlooms?

Metal objects are generally not affected by light, but light can heat metal and increase the rate of tarnishing. Only repeated inspections of silver objects will determine whether existing conditions are right. Inspections checking for loose powder, flaking or any other change should be made every month in the summer and less often in the winter.


When handling silver, always wear clean cotton gloves; otherwise, you may leave permanent marks in the surface. It doesn’t matter if you have just washed your hands as tarnishing will still occur because of the natural oils and acids on your skin.

Tarnish removal

Before cleaning, it is important to know what kind of silver you have. Some objects are plated or gilded. A plated item is made from a base metal over which a thin layer of silver has been applied through a process such as electroplating. Most of the damage to silver comes from the harsh treatment used to remove the tarnish and polish the silver.

Do not use multi-purpose metal polishes; they are more abrasive than polishes made specifically for silver. Polishes that are washed off are less abrasive because they use liquid to suspend the abrasive material. Silver polishing cloths are even less abrasive than silver polish because they do not contain as much abrasive material as liquid. Chemical dips include acid, and acids are corrosive.

Every time silver is cleaned or polished, some of the original surface is removed. Repeated polishing can also result in the loss of engraved lines or other details on the surface of an object. Therefore, if you have to clean silver, start with the mildest products possible. Light tarnish may only need to be rubbed with a soft cotton cloth to be removed. Be sure to clean away any polish residue. Polishing should be done as infrequently as possible. The aim should be to try and stabilize the silver piece to keep polishing to a minimum; this can be done by protecting against the atmospheric elements that cause the problem.

Tarnish prevention

Silver is a highly reactive metal that tarnishes when it comes into contact with air, water and even the slightest fingerprint. Tarnish is accelerated in a humid environment. Decorative silver is fairly strong, but the surface luster can quickly be destroyed by a layer of dark tarnish so proper handling and display are essential. A completely corrosive-free environment will probably not be possible, but preventative measures, along with a low relative humidity, will dramatically slow tarnishing.

When framing a silver item, consult with a professional framer who will advise you on how to best preserve your item in a framing package!

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