If you’ve ever been to an estate sale or auction, most likely there was at least one silver service, tray, or table set for sale. Yet, why do some pieces sell for high prices at the auction house while others arrive at the local thrift shop?
One of the primary factors in determining the value of anything “silver” is whether it is made from sterling silver or if it is simply silver plate. Sterling silver consists of 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% copper, while silver plate is comprised of a base metal such as copper, brass, or stainless steel that has been electroplated with sterling silver. Silver plate became popular in the late 1800s and made silverware more affordable for the masses.
Sterling items are typically stamped with either “925” or the words “sterling” to indicate their composition. Pieces produced in Great Britain often have a small lion hallmark, in addition to other marks that may indicate the city, date, or maker.
On the other hand, silver plate items may be stamped with “silver plate”, “EPNS” (Electro-plated Nickel Silver), or “German Silver.”Older pieces may exhibit wear spots from use, exposing the base metal beneath. They can be re-plated by a jeweler or even through “do-it-yourself” kits.
Items made from sterling are always worth at least their value in silver, which has increased in price by over 600% in the last 10 years. Simply look-up “Scrap Silver Calculator” online and enter in the weight of your pieces to get a rough estimate of what’s called the “spot” value. If you decided to sell your sterling items for their silver value, be aware that a fee is usually charged for the transaction and to cover the cost of refining the metal.
Both sterling and silver plate pieces can increase in value, depending upon the manufacturer or intricacy of the object. I recently sold a Tiffany and Company sterling serving spoon worth only about $45 by weight, yet it sold for over $200. Manufacturers like Tiffany’s often command a premium from buyers due to their reputation for quality. Last April, at their Historic Chinqua Penn Auction, local auctioneer Leland Little sold several silver plate items in the range of $300 – $900, due to their ornate nature and regional provenance.
So next time that you’re getting ready to use Grandma’s silver service, take a moment to turn it over and see what it’s made of. Its value might just surprise you.
The original article can be found in the February 2013 issue of Southern Neighbor available here: http://www.southernneighbor.com/upload/Feb13web.pdf