Like jewellery but unlike most other antiques, silverware has an intrinsic value tied to the price of gold and silver bullion. Your silverware is also, however, may be worth far more than its value as base metal; although the market for antique silver has not been at its strongest in recent years, quality pieces appraised by an expert continue to fetch high prices.
Hallmarks and Dating Silver
For many pieces, age is key. For a silver fork, for example, authentic wear which supports an early date by hallmark can indicate a high value as forks only began to see widespread use in Britain in the late 17th century. Similarly, revival-style pieces, such as 19th century rococo, are usually less valuable than the originals despite similarities in appearance.
If genuine, hallmarks can usually successfully date a silver piece, shown in British marks by a combination of the date letter and assay office mark. The Office will also give an indication as to where it was made, along with the maker’s mark. The other mark, typically shown first, will indicate the purity of the silver known as its ‘standard’. Beware, however, some countries such as the United States have had no comprehensive system of marks. In these cases, marker’s marks and import marks have to suffice.
Condition, Collectability and Fakes
Particular silversmiths and their high-quality work are, as you might expect, hugely sought after and command high prices. While nothing legitimate can be done to change the maker of a piece, however, silverware often has an enhanced collective value when placed with other similar pieces. As can be imagined matching sets, in particular of desirable sizes such as sets of 12 silver plates or complete cutlery sets, reach significantly higher prices than the sum of the value of individual pieces. Pieces don’t even need to be contemporary, however, to have increased value; many collections of family tableware, for example, were commissioned over some years or even generations but stylistic homogeneity keeps the value of such collections high.
The value of collections can tie in with the condition of silverware. Silver wears considerably over time and as such the wear on pieces of a used collection should be even and appropriate to the age of the pieces. As practical items, much silverware has been subject to repairs and adjustments over their lifetime. Replaced rims, soldered handles, over-cleaning and removed armorials are all commonplace in silverware and show how past good intentions can devalue your silver. To avoid this kind of devaluation on your silver, contact a specialist for repairs, do not keep it wrapped in newspaper and avoid abrasive cleaners and salt.
Not all alterations to silverware are so well-meaning, however. Its high value has made silverware a target market for fakes and copies, either to dodge duties or boost the price of an otherwise unremarkable piece. Most fakes have giveaways to a trained eye such as misplaced or poorly punched marks, solder lines or casting lines when pairs have been illegally cast.