The other day my dad came into my room bearing a silver cup.
It was a familiar object which I’d seen many times in the cupboard upstairs, but I didn’t know much about it except what the engraved initials stood for.
WR – Walter Rosenhain, my great-grandfather (my father’s mother’s father). Walter Rosenhain was born in Berlin in 1875 but his family moved out to Australia when he was young. Walter completed a course in civil engineering at Melbourne University and spent three years studying at Cambridge. He then worked as a scientific advisor to a company which produced optical glass and lighthouse apparatus. He later became superintendent of the metallurgy department of the National Physics Laboratory in London. He was awarded the Iron and Steel Institute’s Carnegie medal in 1906 and the Bessemer medal in 1930.
Walter was married to Louise Monash, a sister of General Sir John Monash, and they had three daughters, all born in England. One ended up moving back to Australia where she married my dad’s father. The cup bearing Walter’s initials must have been given to her at some point, and then bypassed my dad’s two older siblings to be left with my family.
The silver cup is dated to 24/08/1876, roughly a year after Walter was born. No one is sure what the cup was commissioned to celebrate, but it’s a very precious and beautiful heirloom, not least because it comes from 1800s Berlin!
Of course by this time the cup was very tarnished, having probably been kicking around in cabinets and cupboards for a century. In fact this was why dad had brought it downstairs; mum must have mentioned that I knew a good trick for cleaning silverware. I’d previously used it to make a set of serving spoons gleaming white, and bring a few pieces of mum’s jewellery to a shine. Dad was wondering if I could return the heirloom to its former glory…
Indeed I could.
Read the silver de-tarnishing trick here.