WHEN THE REAGANS moved in, the White House sent Albercrombie & Co. silver-platers in Silver Spring four silver pitchers, two coffee urns and one silver tray. "They looked like they had been dropped a few times -- that happens when you have a lot of catered affairs," said Abercrombie owner Beverly Thomas. "During the Carter administration, we did a lot of [silver] plating -- sugar bowls, trays, etc." a
Thomas' company, located at 8227 Fenton St., also recently restored the cast brass oil lamps from the Nixon era. Former President Nixon had them in the Oval Office. The oil-turned-electric lamps will now be used in the Treaty Room, Thomas was told.
"We repair silver for many of the American embassies in foreign countries, too," noted Thomas. "We did some work in the American Tehran embassy about two years ago." No one expects to see those pieces again.
The White House spreads the work around. Dezso Rubesch, silversmith in his father's company, Anton Rubesch, 119 S. Royal St. in Alexandria, remembers silverplating "all President Ford's football trophies, while he was in office -- you know, ones like 'Most Valuable Player,' etc."
The goldsmiths and metal smiths at the family-fun Rubesch company gladly name celebrities who are regular customers, such as actress Sissy Spacek and her mother-in-law, and actor Robert Duvall.
At Universal Electro-Plating, located at 1804 Wisconsin Ave. NW, owner William Pimble said they just finished restoring the chandeliers and sconces for the White House conference rooms. "We saw the sconces on television during one of the president's press conferences," recalls Pimble.
"We've also done work for the National Trust for Historic Preservation," said Pimble. "Most recently we repaired and polished Oatlands' chandelier. That rascal was in 1,000 pieces when we got hold of it -- it swung off its hinges when a tree hit the side of the house last summer."
The Washington area -- perhaps since it's the home of the government and site of so many historical homes -- has a number of highly qualified silversmiths and goldsmiths. Repairs are not always inexpensive, but their prices are relatively stable, compared to the yoyoing price of silver, itself. Many local smiths did not raise their repair or silver-plating prices as the price of silver skyrocketed -- nor are they lowering them now that silver has decreased.
Of course, workmanship, not celebrity clientele, is the reason to use these companies. Yugoslavian-born Boris Paskvan, owner of Bethesda Art Metal, 4955 Bethesda Ave., is anxious to show off "my little junkyard -- we have everything here -- actually it's more of a treasure chest than a junkyard."
In what could be mistaken for a disorganized and haphazard workshop, one man is working on an antique brass menorah, the other is poking about, not doing much of anything. Staff? "Oh no," laughs Paskvan. "These two gentlemen are customers. I encourage them to come around and learn about the metal repairs they have me do."
Silver plating is a common repair. The process is most often done over brass, nickel and copper or soft metals.
Lenke Rubesch, wife of Anton Rubesch, explained the silver-plating process as we walked through the small back rooms that compose the workshops of the 14-year-old Alexandria shop.
"First, we clean the piece to be plated thoroughly [in this case a brass teapot]. We hang it in a cyanide solution to strip it of all its old silver plating. Next, we dip the teapot into a tank containing water with silver suspended in it. [Two strips containing silver are already hung in the tank, through which an electric cord is run.] We turn on the electricity, and through electrolysis the silver from the strips is drawn through the water to the teapot. To make sure the silver adheres properly, we leave the teapot in the solution for about 45 minutes.
"The timing is important," stressed Mrs. Rubesch. "If the teapot stays immersed too long, the silver plating will peel off -- like when your skin is sunburned." Timing varies, 20-45 minutes, depending on the piece and on the size tank you have.
Following the silver-plating, the teapot is dried and brushed with a brass brush. And finally the teapot is polished and buffed to a high gloss.
"Many customers request quadruple plating," confided Mrs. Rubesch. "But quadruple plating -- or four layers of silver plate -- is just not done any more. We achieve the same thickness in coating by leaving the item in for the specified length of time."
William Pimble at University agrees. "My grandfather used to plate a piece four times, but today one plate is enough -- one dip in the tank gives us a plate 1 one-thousandth of an inch thick."
Sometimes items are copper-plated before they are silver-plated. But that is rare, according to Pimble. "Usually only nickel- and brass-plated objects are pre-plated with copper."
Another common subject for repair is the garbage-disposal-mangled spoon. "I can't tell you how many calls we receive on this," said Paskvan, as he pulls out a drawerful of spoons with papers attached to identify the owners.As Paskvan cheerfully set up his tools, one particularly horrendous specimen was made new again before our very eyes.
"You see this spoon? All you need is a hammer, pliers and a spoon mold. I just bend the stem back into position with my pliers. See? Then, with the pliers, bend the spoon itself out flat. I take my hammer, place the spoon on the anvil and flatten it out some more. Then I put the spoon over a spoon mold and gently tap with the hammer all around -- getting the spoon back to its original shape. Voila!" With a little polish, the dainty silver teaspoon is its former self. Where to Go for Repairs
Universal Electro-Plating in Georgetown will do silversmith, goldsmith and general metalsmith repairs as well as restoring, polishing and lacquering.They can take the dents out of pewter and reproduce missing or broken legs and handles. They have an extensive lamp department where they wire and refinish lamps, chandeliers, etc. Prices vary depending on the work required, the size of the piece and the metal it's made of. Their minimum charge for silver plating is $50. William Pimble has been silversmith for 40 years, having started his apprenticeship in Providence, R.I., in 1941 at Gorham Silver, where his great-grandfather, grandfather and father were all silversmiths.
Abercrombie & Co. in Silver Spring does plating and repairing, and refinished fireplace equipment. They do the difficult work of repairing broken candlesticks weighted with pitch. "Sometimes we get filled candlesticks twisted and broken in two pieces," says owner Beverly Thomas. "We have to empty out the resin, repair the stick and then refill the base." Thomas encourages people to call them with their questions. "Last week a young man called who wanted to brass-plate his iron furniture -- I hope we talked him out it." Prices vary, depending on the piece, but common silver-plating prices are $2.50 per inch for candlestick plating, $4.50 for a piece of flatware, 15 cents per square inch for a tray -- front and back (handles, legs, galleries cost extra).
Anton Rubesch in Old Town Alexandria does general metalsmith work and repairs, starting at $8. The Rubesches also repair broken filled candlesticks. Anton Rubesch learned the trade in Hungary, while his son studied silversmithing in London. Today, the two men run the shop along with their wives -- who help with sales and the jewelry repairs. In addition, the Rubesches are teaching two silversmith apprentices.
At Bethesda Art Metal, Boris Paskvan, follows the Bronzshoe price list, a biannual trade publication. Sample silver-plating prices from the Bronze shoe: $16.18 for a 7 x 7 inch-square tray; $112 for an 18 x 20 inch tray. Paskvan studied electronics in Yugoslavia and did catering here before opening up his shop. Bethesda Art Metal will repair and refinish brass beds, fireplace paraphernalia, Art Nouveau/Art Deco silver mirrors, Tiffany lamps, coffee and tea sets, fire-extinguisher lamps and more. They also will design pieces on commission.
Alexandria Metal Finishers, 104 S. Early St., Alexandria, Replates and repairs all kind of metal, from tea sets and trays to pictures frames and silverware," says plant manager Tom Gallihugh. They'll take the dent out of your pewter candlesticks, but filled candlesticks they send to Rubesches.
Sheffield Electro-Plating Co., Inc., 2012 M St. NW, despite its name, no longer does electroplating. Owner John Ebner says plating is an expensive procedure for which you need a lot of room. Sheffield does do metal repairs, buffing, polishing and antique restorations.