Hi, Matt Alice:
I cleaned my silver necklace’s cross using a name-brand silver cleaner, but my wife says I am a stupid, ignorant, ugly male idiot because silver, as she briefs me from watching antique shows, gets a valuable patina which adds to its allure. I think my cross looks a lot nicer, myself. After investigation, I found many websites about “patina.” I’m wondering, though, the Statue of Liberty is green due to its copper patina. Was it ever copper color, like a new-penny color, when it was new?
— Patrick Reardon, moved to Davis, CA
If patina adds allure, then Lady Liberty is drop-dead gorgeous. She’s fully patinated and has been since about 1900. (If you need a definition, patina is a surface change, both chemical and color, caused by exposure of various metals to air.) The 350 copper plates that make up the decorative surface of the statue were completed in Paris in 1885. We put the thing up on its iron skeleton on (then) Bedloes Island in New York Harbor in 1886. And she was a shiny copper color, probably just shy of new-penny bright. We know this from illustrations of the day.
Copper exposed to the salty, turbulent air of the harbor would be fully patinated in one to two decades. This caused a gaggle of uninformed bigwigs in 1906 to convince Congress to set aside money to have the statue painted. They were put off by the blue-green patina. Painted! Gack! Judging from what we do to concrete statues in front of our houses these days, it’s hard to imagine what we’d do to a canvas as big as the Statue of Liberty. Anyway, brighter brains prevailed, and she dodged a garish bullet. When repairs were made to the statue in the 1990s, the shiny replacement copper was chemically patinated so it matched all the rest.
As for your silver cross, you ignorant male, silver is one metal that corrodes to an unattractive black that is best cleaned away. Leaving a little black in the tiny corners, though, helps any design stand out. There might be some argument to make for leaving a valuable silver antique unpolished if you’re planning to sell it, since buyers like their purchases as untouched as possible. Your wife might be confusing silver with bronze, on which patina is a must. But corrosion does silver no good. And take care with silver-plated things, since polishing removes a scant layer of metal. Pretty soon your cherished silver-plate tray will have big copper patches, copper being the base metal that the silver’s attached to. Anyway, you might be a stupid, ignorant, ugly male idiot, but not because you polish your silver.
Hey, Matt Man:
Answer me this; why is it that the popcorn in Cracker Jack (or Fiddle Faddle, or just about everyone else’s commercial product) has popcorn shaped for the most part like little marbles (small and round), and the popcorn I pop at home pops with random results in its shape? Very, very few pop out like small marbles. Are the commercial popcorn poppers using a special corn not available to the rest of us? What gives?? How do I get my hands on some of that popcorn?
— Curious in Clairemont
Whoa! The elves and I don’t think we’ve ever run into anybody who’s studied their popcorn so closely. Go to a lot of boring movies? Sure your daily life is full of enough exciting things? Grandma Alice has put together a nice embroidery kit for you, just to ease you into what the rest of us call “outside interests.”
Your round, marble-style snacks are known in the trade as mushroom popcorn; the free-form, wingy things are butterfly popcorn. Theoretically, any scoop of kernels will explode into either type, but as you’ve noticed, the mushrooms are rare. (It’s some magical combination of kernel hull thickness and temperature that produces a mushroom.) But just as popping corn was created as a genetic variant of regular corn, so have the popcorn professors separated the mushrooms from the butterflies. You can buy an all-mushroom sack of kernels; the commonest will weigh, oh, 50 pounds or so. That’s a heap o’ snackin’. Mushroom popcorn is tough, not light and airy like butterfly popcorn, and doesn’t have easily breakable “wings.” That makes it the form preferred by makers of caramel corn, kettle corn, and any other popped corn that gets tumbled around in flavoring vats. You’ll probably have to cruise the internet to find a commercial popcorn vendor willing to sell mushroom corn in small quantities. Be sure to store it in glass with a tight lid, or eventually your corn will poop, not pop.