Buying antique silver can be a very good investment. If you can clean and maintain the piece, then silverware can remain in good condition, and thus retain or even enhance its value. As well as silverware being a great investment, it can also be appealing simply due to its aesthetic, craftsmanship and interesting provenance. In my eyes, you should consider all of these factors when investing in silverware.
For most people, it is easy to observe a piece of silverware and decide if you like its look, or not (as the case may be). Perhaps it is a certain era, style, or design that you recognise in a piece that really appeals to you. Whatever it may be, this certain something will help narrow your search.
If you are new to buying silverware it may help to research a range of styles to assess what’s available. Inevitably, there will be certain companies who specialise in different types of silverware. So, knowing what you are looking for will help enormously in reducing the search.
If you are going to be spending a fair amount of money on a piece of silverware, it goes without saying that it is of paramount importance to be as informed as possible. This includes knowing a bit about hallmarks, recognising a maker of note, searching for signs of wear or marriage in a piece, having a certain level of trust with the company you are buying from. The aim of this article is to help you do just that – get to grips with buying silver.
The most attractive pieces are the ones that have no signs of damage or repair work. Of course, depending on the age of the piece this is sometimes unavoidable. There are weak points in a piece of silver that are susceptible to damage with prolonged use. The places to check for wear are spouts, rims, feet and joints with handles.
The surface of a piece of silver should be shiny and unembellished, a break in patination almost always points to an alteration or repair. It is worth noting that a reputable seller will not hide the condition the piece. It should be shown in pictures, acknowledged in the description of the piece or, if you are visiting a shop or auction in person, it should be commented on. If you are still unsure as to the condition of the piece, it is always worth asking the seller directly.
Hallmarks or marks of identification are another way of gauging the value of a piece. In most cases British silver is marked with at least four marks. There is the sterling mark, which guarantees the purity of the silver, the date mark in the form of a letter, the maker’s mark of the particular silversmith, and the town mark which tells us the location of the assay office where the piece of silver was assessed.
If you wish to learn more on this particular subject, see our information page on collectable makers.
The number of hallmarks differs depending on the country where the piece is from. It wasn’t until November 1972 when an attempt at standardising the legislation on the inspection of precious metals was made in Europe. Thus, some marks have been struck into some pieces of silver, but there are also some pieces that have very hallmarks on them, if any. Furthermore, occasionally a hallmark will have become worn, so is very faint to the naked eye, simply due to the wear and age of the piece, and the location of the hallmark.
How to tell if you’re buying from a trustworthy source?
For some people buying silver is a scary process, having said that, there are a number of ways of testing the waters before you commit to that first purchase.
Firstly, check for accreditations. A sign of a good silverware dealer is if they are a part of an association of dealers, for example LAPADA or CINOA. To be a member of associations like these you have to adhere to reputable standards of quality of stock, integrity and expertise. If a symbol of these associations is displayed in a shop, on a web page or indeed at a fair, you can feel reassured that the potential item you buy, and the service you will receive, will reflect the standards of that association.
Even if a shop doesn’t sell online, there will usually be reviews of the service and products, left by people who have shopped there in the past. A quick search online will provide you with other people’s written experiences of the shop, the people who worked there, the service provided, the item etc. More often than not these reviews are extremely helpful, if, for example, a shop has quite a few positive reviews you can feel reassured that the service you will be given will be along the same lines as the previous buyers. Vice versa, if the reviews are generally quite negative, it may be worth looking into visiting a different shop/ website. By the same token, in order to help future customers, leaving reviews (good or bad) are always encouraged by businesses.
There are many online marketplaces where businesses can sell their products; 1stDibs, Online Galleries, eBay, just to name a few. These online mediums only succeed if their customers are receiving a good service. Therefore, when a customer is unhappy with the product they have received, for example the item doesn’t sufficiently match the description on the website, the buyer will receive their money back and the seller will face some form of penalty (this differs depending on the medium). Due to this being the case, some people find that they feel more relaxed and secure when shopping through these different online marketplaces. However, the same checks are still as necessary as before, even when buying through these types of sellers.
Often, the worry with an online store is if they actually exist or not. Hopefully, once you have the assurance of a LAPADA symbol (just for example) this is no longer a worry. However, if you are still concerned, do a bit of digging. If they have a phone number or address, look into it, perhaps give them a call, carry out an internet search or look through a business directory to see if the address is registered with the business. If no warning signs flag up then you can be safe in the knowledge that you have done all you can to check the legitimacy of the business.
As with most things, the key to buying silver, online or in person is be informed. Make sure you ask the relevant questions about the condition, age, provenance and also the service you will receive from the sellers. By doing this, you reduce the risk of buying from an untrustworthy seller and enhance the enjoyment and investment you get from buying silver!