Butler history Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, June 2018, The Wisdom of Butlers Past

Steven FerryThe Wisdom of Butlers Past

by Steven Ferry

Part 13

And here is a traditional butler job that is also disappearing for many in the profession: cleaning silver and gold or plated items. What was true then is still true now:

“Many are the ways and means of doing it used by different persons, and everyone thinks his own the best. Some, however, have much injured the plate intrusted to their care, by making experiments of different kinds upon it; I shall therefore give you directions both for cleaning it, and for the plate-powder, which it is desirable to clean it with.”

The technique? Wash the plate in boiling water using stiff brushes for ornate surfaces with crevices, and softer brushes for plain surfaces. Sift the plate powder through muslin and apply with a sponge, thick leather, or brushes—or for smaller, plain items, such as cutlery, between finger and thumbs, handling one at a time or they will come into contact with each other and scratch. The longer one rubs the plate, the better it will look. (Note: If plated with a thin layer of silver or gold, these can wear out, so one would not rub these excessively.) Dust off the powder with a linen cloth. For a prolonged shine, the author recommends putting sweet oil on the surface with a cloth, sprinkling the plate powder over the oil, and rubbing in until the oil disappears.

Extracted from the 1823 book, The Footman’s Directory and Butler’s Remembrancer, re-published in hardback by Pryor Publications.

You may obtain your discounted copy (with free s&h) by emailing the publisher: Mr. Pryor (

The Institute is dedicated to raising service standards by broadly disseminating the mindset and superior service expertise of that time-honored, quintessential service provider, the British Butler, updated with modern people skills, and adapted to the needs of modern employers and guests in staffed homes, luxury hotels, resorts, spas, retirement communities, jets, yachts & cruise ships around the world.