These treasured heirlooms don't just win style points in our house. I'm pretty fascinated by the history of food & the cultural traditions surrounding its preparation. Such a nerd, I took a night class on ancient food history (call it Gastronomy if you must) my senior year of university. During pregnancy & nursing, most of my wakeful thoughts involve food. So when my mum & grandmother handed over a silver cream ladle & a silver baby spoon-I use them daily with a thankful heart. (Ladle is identical to the above image from this Etsy shop. Spoon matches this set, also on Etsy.)
Generations past would gift babies with silver (spoons, rattles, teething rings) to promote their health. Mouthing silver lets only trace amounts into your body but appear to disrupt bacteria cells permanently. The Greeks used silver vessels to help keep water and other liquids fresh. Silver flatware became popular in the middle ages to protect against the plague. The wealthy could afford silver & escaped the worst of it. In England, not more than 25% of the rich died during the plague of the 14th century while for peasants the death rate was 40-50%, according to Norman F. Cantor, in his book, In the Wake of the Plague. Settlers in the American West used silver dollars in jugs of milk to keep it fresh & silver coins in the wooden water casks to keep the water free from the growth of bacteria, algae, and other organisms. With the advent of prescription antibiotics & refrigeration, silver has seemed to be less necessary for health. I have never personally a silver teething ring or silver rattle (just rubber pacifiers & wooden toys).
A debate several years ago surfaced about the use and benefits/health risks of colloidal silver (more here, my wanderings are not at all extensive). We've only tried it topically for 3-5 day stints (think diaper rash, etc) because it's rather expensive. So we use those old heirlooms, especially with our babes. And if I ever inherit a set of silver flatware, you can bet your naturopathic buns I will insist on its use thrice daily. Hand wash notwithstanding.