Care and Feeding of Cow Creamers

Well, 'feeding' may be a bit of a stretch, but care is definitely important, even if it's only your granmother's old Jackfield that you inherited. This of course is more critical if you have even a modest collection. I probably wouldn't have bothered to include this section on my web page, but I had a couple experiences that convinced me that even museums need a bit of tutelage at times. The first was simply reading that Gabrielle Keiller was - at least for a while - quite displeased with the was the Pottery Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke on Trent was displaying her collection, despite careful discussions regarding her wishes.

The second related to an article dated 1980 from Taylor University that lauded their Rice Cow Creamer collection, that had been donated by an alumnus who had made significant money with Dairy Queen. This collection numbers some 200 plus items and the article proudly claimed it was America's finest. So, on a cross country trip my wife and I stopped by Upland Indiana and arranged with their archivist to look at it. It turns out that the creamers were not only not on display, but were poorly wrapped, many in newspaper, and stuffed in cardboard boxes. Several had been broken while in storage, and the silver ones were badly tarnished. I'm sure that the Rices, who donated the collection to the university in 1978, would have been apoplectic if they knew how their alma mater was treating their treasures. I just rechecked the web, and there is a July 19 2019 article in the university paper that says the collection is being moved from a display case back into the Archives, so perhaps the cows did get a bit of loving care at some point after I explained my concerns to the archivist.

Caring for cow creamers really isn't that hard. Rule #1 of course is that if you are going to actually use them, make sure they're clean inside and out. This is particularly true with some of the older 'Staffordshire' ones. Sanitation is much more well understood these days than when they were in wide use in the 18th and 19th centuries, and milk is now much more carefully prepared and stored. But these well loved creamers were, I'm told, responsible for quite a number of illnesses and deaths from salmonella poisoning way back when, from milk getting caught in the small crevices at the top of the legs, and going bad because it sat around too long or wasn't thoroughly cleaned out.

Rule #2 is to store them securely, and if you're in an earthquake prone area, make sure to use museum putty or some such (more on this below) to hold them down. Silver ones are best displayed in a glass fronted case that reduces air circulation to minimize tarnishing, and it's also a good idea to put some chalk or anti-tarnish paper in with them to absorb the sulfur compounds that cause the tarnish. Pure silver is very tarnish resistant, but even the highest level of sterling silver contains other metals, like copper, that react to moisture and sulfur in the air.

Rule #3 is simply to dust (ceramic) or polish (silver and other metals) them when needed. There are plenty of dust cloths available these days - I happen to use Swifter dry sweeping cloths. More on silver polish below. If the cows are really dirty (many are when first acquired), wash them by hand in a mild dishwashing detergent like Dawn - never put them in the dishwasher. I learned that early on through the loss of a horn on one of my favorites. A codicil to the cleaning rule is, "Do it yourself". My wife refuses to touch my collection, and for more reasons than one.

With those simple rules as a starter, here are a few more suggestions and tips. Click on any thumbnail for a larger picture.

Cow creamer with lid Lid with putty Poster Putty

Many cow creamers, especially the older Staffordshire ones and others like the Benningtons, Jackfields, etc, plus of course Teapots, have lids. Not infrequently these have been lost over the years, so many older cow creamers on the market either are missing the lid or have replacements. The lids come off easily when you pick them up to dust or display them, so I have found that it's best to secure the lid to the cow with some sort of removable and reusable 'poster putty'. As I mentioned on the home page, I first encountered this in London where it was used to post pictures of 'ladies' on the windows of those neat old red phone booths, making it easy to find the number to call if you wanted a 'friend'. The police seemed to tolerate this, since the putty comes off easily and leaves no marks or residue. As the picture on the right shows there are quite a few brands of this - I've been using those from Loctite, Duck and Elmer, but probably the best 'high end' is Collectors Hold 'The Museum Putty'. I have found that it's best to replace the putty after some 3-5 years, simply to keep it flexible, and I generally do this while I'm dusting them.

Goof Off

One thing NEVER to do with lids is to hold them on with scotch tape. It is difficult to remove, especially after it has been on for a while. If you're desperate for something to hold a lid on while shipping use one of the removable masking takes made for painters, but again NEVER use scotch tape. I have received quite a number of old creamers where removing it impacted the glaze or colors. If you do have to remove scotch or other tapes, or for that matter the residue from stickers, I recommend "Goof Off". WD40 will also work but can leave a greasy film. Of course whichever you use, wash well afterwards with a mild detergent.

silver storage and cleaning materials

Silver cow creamers are quite expensive so obviously they deserve great care and careful treatment. There is a good article on "Conservation and Restoration of Silver Objects" on Wikipedia, as well as many other sites with information about keeping and polishing silver, but here are a few hints that I have found work quite well for my collection. First, remember that while pure silver is quite stable and resistant, it's the other metals in sterling (92.5 or more silver) or lower grade (e.g., the 800 or 80% silver of many Dutch and German cow creamers) - often copper, nickel or zinc - that react quite rapidly to sulfur and similar compounds in the air or on hands or other materials, and lead to a surface layer of silver sulfide corrosion or tarnish.

So, start by keeping your silver (or other metal) cow creamers in a case that helps reduce air circulation and resist moisture and air pollution. It helps to put silica gel to absorb moisture as well as specially formulated anti-tarnish paper strips in with the cows. Or, as seen in the picture, you can simply use chalk which does a pretty good job of absorbing the sulfur compounds in the air. Also, never use rubber bands or most cloth materials such as wool or polyester on the silver.

If you wash a cow creamer, e.g. to remove milk or cream residues, use warm water with a mild phosphate-free, ammonia-free, and citrus-free dishwashing soap like Dawn. Use a soft cotton dish towel to gently dry.

No matter how well you treat your displayed silver cow creamers, you will eventually need to polish them to remove tarnish. This is best done fairly frequently, before the tarnish get too heavy or widespread. I have found that it's good to do this while watching football or some other sport to relieve boredom, unless you get excited easily. There are a whole lot of silver polishing cloths and creams on the market and they are readily available at almost any jeweler's as well as on-line outlets like Amazon. As the picture shows, I happen to prefer Town Talk , and of the variety they make I like the 12"x18" Dual Anti-Tarnish Silver Polishing Cloth. One part of it is impregnated with anti-tarnish compounds (they won't tell you what those are), and the other is a nice soft cloth for buffing or simply holding the cow while you polish. NEVER wear latex gloves when polishing silver - use cotton or special anti-tarnish gloves if you must have gloves, and if you don't make sure to wipe off your fingerprints because they leave oils that cause tarnish. That's why I like the Town Talk dual cloth.

If an anti-tarnish cloth isn't strong enough to remove the tarnish use a specially formulated soft cream formulated for silver. There are many varieties, but my favorites Wright's or Goddard's. There are also dips, but these usually have some acid content and shouldn't be used unless the cow is in absolutely desperate shape.

I also need to store my cows on occasion - like in a safe dep0osit box when away on a lengthy trip. Thus the little bags like those in the picture. You can buy 'kenized' cloth which is 100% cotton flannel with an active compound such as zinc carbonate, or Pacific Silvercloth which has tiny silver particles, by the yard to make your own bags - and of course bags are available on line as well. Again there are a lot of choices, simply get one that has the correct anti-tarnishing properties and NEVER simply wrap the cow in other materials.

English Silver Hallmarks

Perhaps the hardest aspect of a cow creamer collection is figuring out what you have - who made it, when and where, and what is it worth? I addressed these questions in other parts of the introduction, but here's a bit more.

With very few exceptions, unless an earthenware cow bears a sticker or writing or written or impressed mark of some sort, it's almost impossible to figure out who the maker was. There are generic categories that I have sorted some my older cows into, but beyond that it gets hard. I have done my best, and have found that others now use my web site as sort of a guide. Occasionally you will find that some other collector has figured things out, but that's a matter of luck. Remember that even very few of the cows in the fabled Keiller collection have any information on provenance. A seller may be able to help but I have found that many just say they got the item at an estate sale or some such. Experienced reputable high-end antique dealers may know what they're selling, but often even they just know from whom they got an item, not where or by whom it was made. The Potteries web site can on occasion be useful for English items, if you have some sort of a starting hint.

Silver cows are somewhat easier because most countries require some sort of an assay mark, as well as a guild or hallmark. The little booklet shown here is great for English silver cow creamers. It's available on line ate Of course there are a lot of Dutch, German, Hanau, even Italian of Spanish silver cow creamers, and there it can be more challenging. The source I have found most helpful is the "On Line Encyclopedia of Silver Marks, Hallmarks, and Maker's Marks" at Another good source is "Silver Hallmarks and Marks Antique and Modern Marks and Hallmarks of Silver", at and its parent site.

Price is a whole other story. As I said in the introduction, the best I can do is tell you what I paid for mine, or suggest you find one like yours on eBay or some other on-line site. The caveat here is that sellers often have no idea what they have, and eBay prices can be truly weird. Reputable antique dealers can help - but of course they buy at a fraction of the price at which they sell. The other caveat is that the price of collectibles like these go up and down with the interest of buyers, and eBay has done a lot to change the pricing, with over 2000 on offer internationally at any given time.