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Pewter vs. silver
ravelda wrote in little_details

If you bought something made out of silvery metal, how could you tell if it's silver or pewter? Googling says to try nitric acid to see if it's silver or not, but is there a less dangerous method? I took a silversmithing class a few years ago, so I know silver can have firescale (black marks caused by too much heat). Can pewter also have firescale? Or some other kind of oxidation? Various websites say modern pewter can't tarnish, but silver can. I know silver has a distinctive smell. What does pewter smell like? 


Try the aluminium and salt trick and see if the finish comes up like silver.

What is that trick? It's one of those things that apparently "everybody" knows and no one remembers exactly how to do it or what to use, and I've never been able to find out any details at all.

OK, here's the trick. You fill a bowl with boiling water and add a couple of tbs of salt. Then add a small sheet of aluminium foil. Then you add the metal object. If it's silver little bubbles will start to rise from its surface and a few minutes later the tarnish will start to lift, leaving the surface very bright. When the water cools take the object out and run it under warm water to remove the salt solution and dry with a soft cloth. The remaining tarnish should wipe away.

It's a really good technique for cleaning fragile silver jewelry but it works on anything silver.

salt foil trick


2011-11-14 12:16 am (UTC)

did this work for you?

As far as I know, pewter doesn't develop firescale, so that might be a clue. Old pewter contained a lot of lead, and was noticeably heavy, but modern pewter is mostly tin, and doesn't tarnish, while silver will tarnish black. I had to distinguish between silver and tin for a college project recently, and it is surprisingly difficult, unless you use nitric acid, which will leave a mark. The only other likely thing that tarnishes black would be nickel silver (EPNS). Pewter doesn't have any particular smell, but silver and nickel silver do, although they are a bit hard to describe.

Another thought - does it have any marks?

Here's the thing.

This is a community for asking about details that come up in your writing. It's not an "ask anything" community--and I don't think we want it to become one.

That said, I don't really care if you ask a question that isn't actually going to come up in your writing, as long as we can't tell. The problem with your post is that other people will see me not smacking you and think that asking non-writing-related questions is okay. Monkey see, monkey do.

So consider yourself smacked. Please don't post blatantly off-topic things in the future.

Ouch. That hurt. I rephrased the question so it's not so blatant.

Why do you automatically think firescale in the context of something possibly silver going black? Silver oxide would be my first reaction - I've had to polish too much silver not to have bad, bad thoughts whenever I see a silvery metal with black on it. Silver goes black when exposed to the air. Pewter doesn't. Pewter is lead plus tin and therefore tastes slightly sweetish if anything, and isn't such a shiny finish.



2011-01-12 06:50 pm (UTC)

I am searching to find some info on silver under the name "towle" does anyone know anything about this name? I have a teaset I am cleaning and that name shows up when cleaning

Pure and sterling silver (92.5% silver or more) tend to be stamped. From research that I did before, when I worked at an engraving and gift shop that sold metal items, I found that sterling silver has to be stamped in the US, but in Canada it's not legally required (although you will see stamps most often anyway).

Silver, when left exposed to the air will oxidize. It initially turns slightly yellowish, but can be cleaned off with a commercial silver cleaner. If left too long, it can turn black.

Pewter, however, doesn't oxidize like silver. We sold items that were pewter (uncoated) and pewtertone (had a thin, clear coating over top). Pewtertone was something we could use an oxidant on, to make only the engraving go black, just as we would use for brass (which was always coated for our items). Using an oxidant on silver will turn it completely black and can be difficult to clean off. We never used any special cleaners for pewter or pewtertone items. Windex kept them looking great, even on display.

From an engraver's view, pewter is very soft. It's more stiff than gold (which is incredibly soft), but silver is harder. If you weren't careful about marking the placement of the engraving, (we used a diamond tip for engraving) it was very easy to accidentally mark the pewter. Also, for light markings, you can sometimes use sandpaper on pewter, and it won't be really noticeable that you did anything to it. While silver has a very smooth, shiny finish, pewter is a darker grey and can look like it has little parallel lines in it.

Sterling silver will stay shiny if it is worn by a person fairly regularly (but not if it gets exposed to water), but will oxidize when left out in the open. Our silver items on display often changed colour, although we cleaned them very regularly. What I've heard is that the acid content in a person's skin is what prevents the silver from tarnishing when it's worn. However, if the person is allergic to silver (or another metal in the sterling silver recipe) the silver can change colour. If the person has very acidic skin, the silver will turn black. Their skin may also change colour where the item was worn.

Pewter doesn't change colour though, and is great for low-maintenance keepsakes.

Silver is a much more popular metal for jewellery. There's also silver-plating, which can't be buffed by a jeweller if an error occurs during engraving (because it would flake off). Also, if the plating is inferior quality, it will chip off or bubble when engraved. There is no way to predict if that will hapeen just from looking at it. I often used a little vaseline and sometimes spun the engraving needle if I was concerned that the item might chip. Pewter never chips or bubbles when engraved, though the coating might (which is usually fairly unnoticeable).

Picked up at a garage sale by my 8 year old Son for free. Some kind of metal cup with one broken handle. Feels heavy. On the bottom of the cup are the initials N.S.Co. in raised letters, no numbers though. Thought it might be pewter. Tried scratch test on bottom of cup feels soft but did scratch bright silver in color. At this writing, we are trying the salt, aluminum, boiling water test and quickly saw bubbles. From the rest of the post reading - pewter will not shine up - is that correct?


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