There is an undeniable sense of accomplishment in collecting, but starting one is easier said than done. Starting a silver collection, in particular, can feel overwhelming. After all, there is a large variety of silver pieces available, including plated teapots and cups, sterling flatware, dresser sets, vases, and other decorative objects. However, this does not mean you should buy every silver item you see.
There is a lot to know about antique silver, and it is best to educate yourself before deciding which items to purchase.
Knowing Your Options
Before collecting, it is important to understand that there are thousands of silver goods in the antique market. Almost every object can be made or embellished with silver, but some are more popular options, including:
- Silver flatware, including knives, forks, spoons, and other cutlery
- Dining and serving pieces, such as platters, bowls, and tea sets
- Decorative items like vases, jars, candle holders, and other unique centerpieces
- Coins and commemorative medallions
- Jewelry, including necklaces, brooches, and pocket watches
- Everyday tools and essentials, such as hair brushes, mirrors, pens, matchboxes, cigarette cases, and jewelry boxes
- Clothing elements and accessories like silver buttons, belt buckles, and chatelaines
Choosing Which Kind to Collect
Picking a theme for your collection can help prevent you from overspending. You may:
- Limit your collection to specific items and/or manufacturers
- Collect items from your favorite era
- Focus on your preferred motifs, such as geometric designs or animals
- Invest in pieces you will regularly use, including serving spoons and dishes
Establishing a Collection Budget
Budgeting allows you to determine whether you will have enough money to buy what you want. Having a budget will also dictate what you can collect. For example, if you do not wish to spend hundreds of dollars, but want to begin a great collection, start with silver items retailing for at least $25 a piece, including:
- Smaller silver-plated cutlery like sugar spoons or salt spoons
- Silver-plated candy dishes
- Silver-plated salt shakers
- Silver-plated shoe button hooks
Learning About Silver Content and Plating
There is more to collecting than having a room full of silver items. Starting a collection involves knowing everything about the pieces you want to buy.
There are many different types of silver. Pure silver items are uncommon because the element is far too soft to survive long-term use. Instead, most of what you will find online, at auctions, or in antique stores are either silver plate or sterling silver.
- Silver-plated items contain a thin layer of silver, which coats a base metal (often nickel). These items usually have the words “silverplate,” “EP” for “electroplate,” or “EPNS” for electroplated nickel silver.
- Sterling silver consists of 92.5% solid silver and 7.5% other metals, making it more durable than silver plates. Sterling silver items hold their shape for centuries with proper care. The majority of pieces from the 19th and 20th century are marked with “sterling” or the number “925.”
It is important to note that many unmarked items may still be silver plate or sterling silver. One of the simplest ways to differentiate the two is to place the item in hot water. If the object becomes and remains very hot, it is likely sterling. If it cools down quickly or does not adopt the water’s hot temperature, it is likely plated. The explanation behind this is that silver is a better conductor of heat compared to the base metal beneath silverplate.
Understanding Silver Hallmarks
Manufacturers often mark their creations. Hallmarks are the stamped initials or trademarks found on the underside, backside, clasp, or unobtrusive area of most silver pieces. These marks may also correspond to a specific date or location.
To identify the maker of your silver piece, start by finding the mark. If you are having a hard time seeing it clearly, dip a cotton swab in mild silver polish and dab it over the mark, which should remove any surface tarnish.
Classifying the manufacturer, along with when and where it the silver item was made, is crucial information for assessing the value of antique silver. When in doubt, you can always bring your item to professional appraisers at Biltmore Loan and Jewelry.
Determining the Age of Silver Items
Since most silver manufacturers improve or alter their marks every few years, it is sometimes easy to identify the age of their creations. If the item is marked, narrowing down the date range is as simple as comparing it to the known marks of that specific manufacturer. However, for pieces that do not have marks, look for design clues instead. Motifs and styles are often dead giveaways of when and where an item was crafted.
Examining the Condition of Silver Items
You should always take the time to examine an antique silver’s condition. Dents, scratches, corrosions, revealed base metal, and other damages can decrease your item’s value. Generally, heavily flawed pieces should have no room in your collection. However, if the item is exceptionally rare or ancient, the damage may not impact its desirability.
Spotting Fake Silver
Since fake antiques outnumber genuine ones, you must learn — slowly but surely — how to spot silver counterfeits.
Check the engraving, surface, and dimensional details on a piece. If it shows distinct signs of inconsistency (lumps and rusting), it may be a fake. Master artisans take pride in high-quality details, meaning a true antique has clear, sharp, and intricate details. Sometimes, foragers will make a casting of a valuable antique and then produce several imitations from the mold. You should also examine the mark since it is more challenging to replicate a hallmark than to reproduce a piece of silver.
Caring for Silver
Silver is a malleable metal requiring utmost care. To preserve its beauty and value, you must learn to care for it properly. Keep these tips in mind:
- Wash your silver valuables regularly with mild soap and water.
- Never polish silver unless absolutely necessary. Polishing silver gradually removes a bit of the metal each time. Additionally, only use gentle silver polish or one made specifically for silver.
- Store your silver in tarnish-preventing bags or cases, which minimizes the need for polishing.
Both aspiring collectors and seasoned investors love silver collectibles for one of four purposes: as a hobby, an inflation hedge, an investment, or for survival purposes. Whatever your reasons for collecting silver may be, it is clear that you see more than its remarkable, gorgeous sheen. And with spectacular craftsmanship, antique silver is a fun and valuable collecting focus.
Are You Looking for Silver Investors?
No matter where you are in the world, you have some understanding of the value of silver. It is considered a precious metal and is one of the most valuable materials on earth. If you are looking for reputable establishments that buy and accept loans for precious metals, bring your pieces to our office for a free market appraisal. You may also contact Biltmore Loan by calling 480-991-5626 (Scottsdale) or 480-705-5626 (Chandler).