Swellboy on… household silver

Our man extols the virtues of projectile silver

Image: Brijesh Patel

Silver is not, to be honest, something that gets a lot of use in our household. There was once a very handsome 19th-century canteen of the stuff knocking about somewhere in the family, but in the ancestral shack in Shepherd’s Bush we live a rather plain life and can manage perfectly well with stainless steel – but please do not tell anyone, as such an admission is hardly consistent with my image as an aesthete who spends all his time lolling about on his daybed, smoking cigars, drinking hot chocolate and reviewing tie choices for the day ahead

Maintenance of silver is a bore. Dearly as I would love to have a butler polishing the stuff (in between ironing the newspaper and my shoelaces and polishing the soles of my shoes), I fear that the only space below stairs is in the understairs cupboard, and I am not sure I could fit a butler (or even, for that matter, a valet) in among the vacuum cleaner, brooms, shoe-polishing stuff, ironing board and other domestic arcana.

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I daresay that in Oscar Wilde’s or even the late Alan Clark’s day, polishing your own silver was a pas so faux that it ranked alongside the carelessness of losing two parents, or the vulgarity of having to buy your own furniture, which is why I have been developing a bit of fondness for the work of Gerald Benney.

Benney was arguably the greatest British silversmith of the postwar era and he came up with that textured bark-like finish on domestic silver that is, for me, one of the design signatures of the 1960s and 1970s. Apparently, while finishing a piece of silver, he inadvertently used a hammer with a damaged head that imparted a pattern – a few more strokes and, like Archimedes leaping out of the bath and into the history books, he found that he had discovered a new way of doing silver. I am not saying it is self-cleaning (it tends to look better when polished), but it resists the smudges put on it by daily use and disguises nicks and marks.

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Traipsing round the Goldsmiths’ Fair, I came upon someone who has taken the concept a step further. Ryan McLean uses what you might call the Benney technique, but he also developed a ballistic technique, which is as drastic as it sounds. He will spend half a day fashioning a beaker 6in in height, taking particular care on the circumference, as it needs to fit snugly into the barrel his domestic cannon (every house should have one), which is actually a bit of B&Q drainpipe that uses compressed air to shoot the beaker at a rock, thus imparting the sort of finish you might achieve if you dropped it from the top storey of your house and then reversed your car over it for good measure. The beaker is truncated to half its original height with a concertina effect on the lower half and a textured base carrying the imprint of the rock. With a ballistic beaker not only do you not have to worry about smudges, but dropping it will only enhance its character.

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