In the horse show world ‘silver’ is a huge statement for tack but it can be tricky navigating the different types and prices. The three most common types of ‘show silver’ are Sterling or Sterling Overlay, Silver Plate, and Chrome. The type of silver used on your show tack will greatly impact the price of your piece and how you will clean it!I Sterling and Sterling Overlay are strong and have a thick amount of silver making them easily cleaned with silver polish without too much fear of wearing down past the silver layer. This type is also very expensive for your average showman but is found on the quality products made by makers like, Harris and Kathy’s. You can read about how the different types of silver are designated and labeled, here. On the other end of the silver spectrum is “Chrome,” which is the best term I could find for the least expensive silver product for show tack. I found it really quite difficult to learn much about this type of ‘silver’ but, it is found on the least expensive pieces (and for a reason). “Chrome” tack is not silver and often doesn’t shine nearly as bright. The appearance is usually quite rough when it comes to the engraving and the ‘silver’ does not hold up as well either. In general, I recommend staying away from this tack as a good quality plain leather halter will look and hold up better than the cheap-looking and often ill-fitting bargain tack (plus quality silver can always be added to a good leather halter down the road).
My main focus for this post is Silver Plate. This type of silver is found on most of the mid-range priced show tack. Makers like Billy Royal, Tory, Dale Chavez, Circle Y, and Billy Cook use silver plate. You can often find good deals on used saddles, halters, and bridles by these makers because they look tarnished, or the owner may think the silver plate is wearing off. Many times, it is not the silver plate, but the lacquer applied over the it. This lacquer can crack, wear off in small areas, and yellow. As this happens, the exposed silver plate underneath tarnishes but cannot be shined with silver polish due to the remaining lacquer protection. Many long searches on how to revive silver plate left me frustrated from the lack of info from show equipment manufacturers (they only tell you how to clean it in ‘like new condition’). I did some research and some testing. Here’s a few tricks to bring yellowed, tarnished, and dull silver plate back to life:
Remove the yellowed lacquer and large spots of tarnish: I’ve been told nail polish remover will do this, and I have tried it but my favorite method is a hot water bath because it will also help pull off tarnish and gunk without having to use any harsh chemicals. Here’s how to do it…
- Gather your silver which has been removed from the leather (try one side at a time and take pictures to make sure it get put back on correctly), a clear glass cake baking dish, aluminum foil, baking soda, an old toothbrush, and a soft towel.
- place a sheet of foil in the bottom of the baking dish and arrange your silver on top making sure each piece is touching the other. Sprinkle baking soda over the it (not a ton, a tablespoon should do it).
- Next, pour boiling or close to boiling water into the dish making sure to completely cover the silver. Now, let it sit for a few minutes and watch as the lacquer and tarnish start to come off!
- I like to brush the silver with the toothbrush as it sits in the hot water just help it remove some of the gross stuff.
- After about 4-5 minutes remove the pieces, one at a time, brushing them with the toothbrush and using the towel to dry and wipe away the biggest pieces of lacquer and tarnish.
Make it Shine! Now that there is no lacquer and a lot of the tarnish is gone, it’s time to really make your silver plate sparkle!
- Gather your silver, a couple of soft cotton towels, cotton swabs, a toothbrush, a pair of needle point tweezers or a safety-pin, and a silver polish (I use Pol which is no longer in production but my future choice and #1 recommended by Real Simple and also sold by Harris Leather is Hagerty’s)
- Before you start polishing use the toothbrush to remove as much loose tarnish as possible
- Get comfy in front of the couch and get to polishing one piece at time using the cotton swabs or toothbrush to apply the silver polish and buffering it off with the cotton towel and cotton swabs for the tight areas.
- My show halter has quite a few ‘nooks and crannies’ which what the tweezers are for. If I could not buffer out the tarnish in these tiny areas, I was able to ‘pick’ the tarnish out; since, it was already beginning to flake after the hot bath. Be very careful to not dig too much or scrape a lot as it could seriously damage the silver plate.
After you have cleaned and polished it, your silver plate should look good as new! At this point, you can reattached it your leather tack and store it. Because the lacquer protection has been removed, the silver will be somewhat unprotected and will tarnish over time. It is best to store it in a climate controlled tack room or closet away from heat and humidity…except of course when it’s being used at the horse show! There are some ways to ‘re-lacquer’ a piece using special chemicals, poly, and nail polish. After some research though, I don’t recommend it. Just do your best to lightly clean your silver plate on occasion to keep it shining!
In the next part of this three-part series, I will explain some of the best ways to store your newly revived silver plate and keep it shining in between shows!
I am not a professional silversmith or silver restoration expert! These articles are to share some info I have gathered through online research and trial and error. If you would like to hear what the pro’s have to say about it, this was my favorite source of info: Herman Silver Restoration.