Don't Be Ashamed to Admit It, Many of Us Know 'Poor Man's Silver' Intimately

Updated: Jan 7, 2020

Many a middle-class family dinner have been served using the recognizable mid-century tableware known as Hammered Aluminum, Hand-Wrought Aluminum, Anodized Aluminum, Poor (Po') Man's Silver, or Pressed Aluminum.

Raise your hand if you remember this lightweight somewhat flatly finished metal serveware from a meal at your aunt's, grandmother's or mother's house.

Your own table? Your secret is safe with us here, after all, we are A Vintage Addiction.

I proudly own some inherited pieces I won't part with and I have several beautiful examples of the made-in-the-USA metalware in my stores. The three-piece casserole set pictured above, made by Everlast, is hard to find complete with the Pyrex glass insert. The bamboo design has a minimalist feel to it, making it a bit more modern than many other serving pieces. My mother would have served a vegetable medley of scalloped potatoes in it. For company.

Aluminum tableware had five decades of popularity in the 20th century, The 1920s and 1930s depression era had aluminum giftware as a popular choice for wedding gifts. Homemakers in the 1940s desired more functional pieces for entertaining. Serving dishes from those years can be described as culinary modern chic. They were pretty to look at, lovely to use, and easy to care for.

Improved methods of working with aluminum in the 1950s sent manufacturers scrambling to create hostess dishes for middle-income families. The factories Continental, Cromwell, Everlast, and Buenilum were busy mass-producing trays, candy dishes, and bowls which were relatively inexpensive for women accustomed to shopping at J.C. Penney, Sears, Montgomery Ward, and Woolworth,

Companies with metalsmiths such as Wendell Forge and Alfred Day chose to up the artisan value of their pieces to compete for a higher dollar from shoppers at Bloomingdales and Bonwit Teller.

All the while, the Krisher Company was instrumental in developing the design enhancements of applying metal on metal.

Layers of petals and leaves, curls and swirls, ornate handles and pedestals enhanced their aluminum. Their Rodney Kent line - named after a street corner, not a person - was a game changer not only aesthetically, but for the types of product that became available.

Ornately decorated casseroles, covered dishes, trays, coffee and tea serving sets, cruets, and other table accessories took aluminum beyond hammered and pressed and filled many more kitchen cabinets with aluminum.

This serving disy by Buenilum is from 1961 yet it appears as polished and bright as the day it was created.

So, what do we do with all this sempiternal metal? It won't go away. It is practically impossible to destroy. There are boxes of metal bowls in attics. We see dull aluminum trays at yard sales. We own table accessories our great aunt insisted we take home with us. And, some of us have Grandma's wedding gifts from 1932.

  • We respect it as American Industrial Metalware.

  • We love it because some close to us did.

  • We use it.

  • We repurpose a candy dish as a desk caddy.

  • We reuse a serving tray as a vanity table cosmetics tray.

  • We use a pitcher as a garden watering can.

  • Novelly, we serve with it.

If we don't do something with it now, some young Billie Gates, Warrie Buffet or Markie Zuckerburg genius will buy it all and refabricate it into these:

Don't let that happen to your children and grandchildren. Is it not better they see a shallow wrought aluminum dish being used as a candle tray than be subjected to these holiday horrors? (Which, if I ever found reasonably priced I would buy in a heartbeat!)

And, in case you are wondering what my point is this afternoon, it is this:

How to Care for Vintage Aluminum Tableware:

1. Use it. Counterintuitively, using your aluminum tableware regularly prevents pitting, tarnishing, oxidation, and other 'injuries'. Why? Because you'll clean it after you use it. When it is on the highest shelf of your unused dishes cabinet, you won't.

2. Gently! Use mild detergent and a soft brush to removed food particles from crevices. Use a soft dish towel to dry. Don't let it air dry, water spots may occur.

3. Aluminum may be cleaned with a paste of baking soda and lemon juice. Use a soft brush, rinse thoroughly, dry it immediately.

4. To removed oxidation from vintage aluminum dishes, soak the dish in a pot, or sink, of VERY hot water with 2 - 3 tablespoons of white vinegar and 2 -3 teaspoons of cream of tartar. Allow the dish to soak at least 30 minutes, repeating the process as layers of rust loosen.

5. Aluminum wheel polish (from the automotive care dept. at the big box stores) will polish clean dishes after debris and oxidation have been removed.

6. If you feel you MUST use steel wool, use 0000 grade from the furniture refinishing section of your hardware store, Use a very small and even, light touch, circular motion starting in the center of the dish, working your way to the edge. Rinse thoroughly, and dry immediately

- Never use abrasive materials such as soap-filled steel wool pads or cleaners intended for other metals.

- Never wash anything aluminum in the dishwasher - you won't wreck it but you will make it uglier.

At A Vintage Addiction, we choose our battles while we are Saving Earth One Used Item at a Time.

THAT is why I Have

A Vintage Addiction



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