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Patina or Tarnish - What's the Difference?

Some people think that tarnish on antique silver is patina.  Tarnish is bad - Patina is good.  This article explains the difference.

I've seen countless silver descriptions online which include claims that the tarnish on a piece of silver or silverware is actually patina. Tarnish is not patina!

Patina is a rich, warm color which forms over time as a result of use and handling. Flatware straight from the factory has a "factory shine" whether it's sterling silver, silverplate or stainless steel. After only minimal use, you will begin to notice fine surface scratches. It is impossible to avoid but this is nothing to worry about; it's part of the patination process. Over time, these fine scratches will blend together to form a soft finish.

Most people are familiar with the term "patina" when used in reference to a piece of antique furniture and how it increases value. It's the same thing with silver. Patina is very desirable on antique silver and flatware. Oxidation (blackening in the fine details of a pattern) is also very desirable and increases value. Oxidation is so desirable, some flatware patterns were produced with factory-applied oxidation. Removing this oxidation with chemical dips or by placing in a dishwasher can decrease value, so think twice before using either of them on your valuable silver. Damaging or removing the patina from your antique silver is akin to stripping the finish off of your prized antique table.

Oxidized Details on 1897 Berkshire Flatware Pattern

Above: Example of oxidation - 1897 Berkshire flatware pattern by 1847 Rogers Bros. Oxidized details make the pattern stand out. Note the soft patina on the handle.

Tarnish is the all-over blackening of silver caused by pollutants in the air. This is easily distinguishable from patina. Avoid buying tarnished silver and silverplate because it can hide wear and damage. The old-fashioned way of removing tarnish by hand polishing with a non-abrasive silver polish is always best for your antique silver.

Author Biography

Patina or Tarnish - What's the Difference?
By Kathleen Sullivan