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Epergne Decorated with Calla Lilies

photo of the epergne, before treatment
Before Treatment

photo of the epergne, after treatment
After Treatment

This is an epergne, which was used to display flowers or fruits at the center of a formal dining table when entertaining. This one was used by the Ramsey family, and is made of silver-plated Britannia metal, and with gold-plated flower stamens. It had not been polished for a very long time, and had turned completely black from tarnish. Conservators refer to this as "benign neglect", because if it had been regularly polished over the years, there would surely be no silver left on it. The main problem with this object was obviously the tarnish, but there were also several pieces that had broken off.

The epergne was first completely disassembled in order to facilitate cleaning. The silver was cleaned with a variety of methods, but mainly relying on a mildly electrochemical process. The cleaned silver was then coated with a special lacquer that is impermeable to the atmospheric gasses that cause silver to tarnish. Broken pieces were reattached to the epergne with epoxy adhesive. In order to conceal lost areas of the silver plating, a thin coat of aluminum flakes and lacquer were applied to these spots, using an airbrush. Losses to the gold-plated flower stamens were coated with lacquer that had been tinted with yellow dye to imitate the gold. The epergne was then reassembled and returned to display.