Theodore Gray wrote an article about silver bullets in Popular Science and mentions in it that silver mostly did not tarnish before the Industrial Revolution.

But today silver is far more common, and it tarnishes over time, primarily because of sulfur pollution from power plants. (By and large, it didn't tarnish before the Industrial Age.)

Is there any solid basis for the claim that that pre-Industrial Revolution silver did not tarnish?


1 Answer 1


Silver tarnish is silver sulfide, which forms in the presence of hydrogen sulfide.[1]

Pre-industrial sources for hydrogen sulfide include volcanic activity (e.g. hot springs), tanneries, sewage, manure, and hard-boiled eggs (YT video).

So, there were plenty of "odors" that would make silver tarnish back in the time, both in the city and in the countryside. Tarnished silver wasn't unknown in pre-industrial times. Perhaps the silverware on the table of a well-aired mansion wouldn't get black as quickly, but using a silver spoon to eat your egg was as bad an idea back then as it is now.

  • 2
    This sounds like the claim could be at least plausible. Presumably the people in the vicinity of tanneries or in frequent contact with lots of sewage and manure were not the same people possessing most (or any) of the available silver implements. I'd be interested to know if there are scientific papers on the hydrogen sulfide concentrations in the atmosphere over time and/or over different environments.
    – fgysin
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 12:06

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