How Charles Dickens introduced me to silver.


Every evening through the bitter cold Saskatchewan winters our mother read Charles Dickens to us.  The Old Curiosity Shop, Little Nell and her Grandfather was as real to us as the neighbors next door.  That was the year I turned  nine years old, and discovered what I thought was an Old Curiosity Shop.

Nine years old meant I was old enough to go downtown by myself.  I could spend all the time I wanted walking up and down Prince Albert’s Central Avenue.   Looking at books in Adam’s Book Store.  Buying a cherry custard ice cream at McConnell’s.


It was off a side street I found a shop with a  dirty window crowded with other people’s memories  – walking sticks, stone crocks, faded photographs and mysterious objects I couldn’t identify.  I had discovered my Old Curiosity Shop. When I opened the door a bell tinkled.  The shop was dusty with forgotten pasts.  It smelt of mildew.   Of neglect.   It was wonderful.

The floor creaked.  Bare light bulbs hung from the high ceiling. There was no order.  Clothes tumbled out of trunks.  China plates and bowls teetered precariously.  Ancestral photographs frowned at me.  And then I found the silver.  Tarnished black.   Again it was wonderful.

A bundle of elaborate silver spoons had been thrust carelessly into a green glass canning jar.  The aging price sticker said five cents each.  I had a dime.  I could buy two.  I knew what I could do with them.   Armed with an old tooth brush, silver polish and soft flannel I had been lovingly polishing my mother’s silver candlesticks and tea service for several years.

And that was the start of my obsession with silver  – preferably old, along with my acceptance that all silver will tarnish and life is too short to be polishing your silver with commercial polish every Saturday.  This recipe for cleaning silver is safer (no chemicals), cheaper (house-hold ingredients) and better for your silver.  It returns your silver to incredible brilliance with damaging it.




Aluminum foil, glass dish or plastic bowl, tongs,   1 cup boiling water, 1 tablespoon baking soda, 1 tablespoon sea salt. 1/2 cup white vinegar.

Line your bowl with the foil.  Add the baking soda and sea salt.  Pour in the white vinegar(it fizzes).  Pour in the water.

Lay your silver items – not touching – in the bowl for 10 to 30 seconds depending on the amount of tarnishing.  Longer if they are badly tarnished.  Remove with tongs and rinse under running water.  Then polish with a soft cloth.  (try to avoid touching the silver with your fingers as they will tarnish your silver)



This amount is perfect for silver jewellery and small items. I made up the amount times eight (8) so I could clean large items.  If you find it not working after cleaning several items simply remove the discolored  foil and replace it with new foil.

Dear friends I did research on this method and I was confident I wasn’t harming my silver.  It is important not to leave the silver in mixture for any length of time. If your have valuable family heirlooms you might want to research this yourself, but it does work a treat on silver plate.  My understanding is continuous use of commercial silver polish actually removes the silver.  This method does not.  The hot water quickly cools but the mixture continues to work.

I absolutely promise your silver will gleam.  I had not polished any silver for almost a year.  It was so tarnished that as I dipped first one side of a silver jug and then went to turn it to the other side the difference was like black and white.    Gather up your collection of silver and polish it all in one go.  It  is like having your own butler from Downton Abby is shining away in the pantry






  1. You were a special little girl to purchase silver at that age with a hint of the woman you would grow up to be. You have inspired me to pull out an old piece of silver in the shape of a shell and use it for Thanksgiving. I also have a small pot that I could put fresh flowers in – yours are lovely And I will try your homemade cleaner. I love your “Hints from Virginia!:

    • Now all this is quite wonderful. Silver in the shape of shell – I am pea green with envy.. When I first made this silver clean I was so shocked at the difference in my silver I was running around the house poking into drawers and
      closets and cleaning everything in sight!

    • It is said that confession is good for the troubled soul. It normally makes me feel happier when I rub and scrub and clean and polish but I think dear Tinny this is going to be a challenge for all humanity. XXXOOO Virginia

    • I am not sure what it is but there is something so lovely about spoons – especially silver spoons. I still poke through old silverware at thrift shops. You never know what one might find.

  2. Oh blesse you for passing this on. I have silver ware from my grand and great grandmother, which hasn’t been polished for decades I assume…. since I brought it over here to the U.S. it’s turning quite black….. I cherish it so much that I was looking for a solution to bring it back to it’s shine without using chemicals. Thank you so much for sharing

    • I have had absolutely black silver look like brand-new almost instantly. And most important – no using nasty chemicals. I also cleaned some silver bracelets that I will now wear. Xx OO Virginia

  3. I have used this magic elixir and can confirm that it works. I believe that I have the same silver pitcher as the one in the first photo…it belonged to my grandmother.

    • Dear Karen, I found that silver pitcher at our local Thrift Shop. I am an avid shopper looking for cast off treasures. It is the thrill of the hunt. Cheers Virginia

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