Virginia Capitol Connections Winter 2023

Julia Marsden (left), and Kirsti Goodwin (right). Both are members of the Furnishing’s and Collection Committee. The piece on the table is a sterling silver epergne made in London by Jason Young in 1784. It is being restored..

The “People’s” Silver By BONNIE ATWOOD The citizens of Virginia own many beautiful things that we take for granted: parks, mountains, rivers, mansions, works of art, museums--the list is almost endless. One thing of which we may not be aware is a priceless collection of silver. Yes, you own silver. Well, you and eight million other people own it together. The “people’s” silver is currently being collected, researched, and preserved by the Citizens Advisory Council on Furnishing and

Left: Tutti Townes, Right: Martin Townes

Interpreting the Executive Mansion. This committee is established in the Virginia code, with members appointed by the governor. The First Lady (or Gentleman) is designated as the honorary chairperson. At this time, the council is working on collecting, restoring, and identifying the vast amount of this lustrous metal owned by the Commonwealth. Where does it come from? In Civil War days much of it was buried, and undoubtedly lost, below the Mason-Dixon Line, when Southerners feared the worst. The Council is working hard to gather this valuable silver for eternal preservation. The famous “gold rush” of the American 1800s was also a “silver rush.” The country was forever changed by the chasing of this brilliant metal. Julia Marsden, one of the very active members of the 30-member Council, showed this reporter the beautiful items she has found over the past several years. They include tea sets, trays, nut cups, tea kettles, bowls, and much more. Silver’s significance, both as a chemical element, a currency, and a decorative item was valued even as far back as ancient Egypt and was believed to have mystic powers. (Wikipedia gives you 29 pages on that.) Cleaning comes first. Silver is a relatively soft metal. Unlike some other precious metals, silver must be more carefully cleaned, because each cleaning removes a few of the silvery molecules. (Don’t even think about the word “dishwasher.”)When treated properly, silver can take on a high polish. Tutti Townes, the Senior Butler, and Martin Townes, the Deputy Butler of the Executive Mansion, are the caretakers of the silver collection. For each piece that is on display at the Executive Mansion, they clean themwith silver polish. For pieces that will be stored, they are cleaned first, placed in a protective bag that was specifically made at the Mansion. Then a silver strip is inserted in each bag that helps to prevent tarnishing while being stored. Identifying each piece is an important first step in determining which items of the silver collection are the most valuable historically and monetarily. All sterling silver items are marked

with a set of tiny—and I mean tiny—numbers and letters that comprise a code as to the year it was made, identifying that it is sterling silver, the manufacturer, and the location it was made. Marsden consults a book, and an expert, to interpret and catalog each item. One of the most valuable sets in the collection is the sterling silver service from the USS Virginia, which is on display in the dining room of the Mansion. Our fabulous collection is stored at the Executive Mansion, not to be used for eating and drinking, but for careful storage, brought out only when it will be displayed. When you think about our Commonwealth’s most valuable resources, be sure to include our lustrous silver collection. Bonnie Atwood is an editor for Virginia Capitol Connections Magazine.


V irginia C apitol C onnections , W inter 2023


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