How to Determine the Value of Antique Silverware

Are you starting on your journey to a silverware collection? Or maybe you have a cupboard full of silverware, a family heirloom that you inherited? Do you think you should be looking at your antique silverware’s value rather than just eating cereal off of it?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then this is your cue to find out about your antique silverware value, your silver set value, and how to identify antique silverware when you see it.

To get into this, however, you must be able to identify genuine silver, which is only possible if you are familiar with the various types of silver used in the production of silverware. The following section will help you do this.

An antique silverware set with spoons, forks, and knives
An antique silverware set with spoons, forks, and knives 

Different Types of Silver Used In Silverware

Sterling silver and plated silver flatware are the two main types of silver used in the production of silverware. If you want to buy real silverware, you must first be able to identify each one.

Sterling Silver

1880 Whiting Sterling Silver Fork
1880 Whiting Sterling Silver Fork (Image Source: Ebay)

Antique sterling silver is extremely valuable and is usually referred to as genuine silver. Due to the malleability of pure silver, antique sterling silverware is not composed of just pure silver. Instead, copper is combined with the silver to make it stronger.

It is too soft to stand on its own due to the silver type. Sterling silver is made up of 92.5% pure silver and 0.75% copper. It is distinguished by imprints or etchings such as “925,” “STER,” “92.5%,” and “sterling.”

Silver-plated Flatware

This is also known as silver flatware or silver plate. At first glance, it may appear to be sterling silver, but upon closer inspection, it is different and is not worth as much as sterling silver flatware.

Silver-plated items are created by electroplating nickel silver. This means that the flatware’s base metal is typically nickel, which is then plated with a thin layer of pure silver.

Plated silverware can easily wear or degrade due to the thin plated layer of real silver. This allows one to distinguish genuine silverware from electroplated silver. Going further into the article, this will be properly discussed.

Silver plated flatware set with two forks, two spoons, and two knives

Sterling (Real) Silver Vs. Plated Silver Flatware

If you plan to purchase sterling silver or want to determine the value of old silverware for sale, you must be able to distinguish between genuine and plated silver. Antique sterling silver can be distinguished from plated silver in the following ways:

● Check for Hallmark or Imprints

When it comes to genuine sterling silver, one thing is certain: it bears the manufacturer’s mark. In determining whether an item is sterling silver, look for etchings on the edges and/or handles (for spoons, forks, knives).

Markings like 925, Sterling, STER, 925/1000, Sterling 925, 925%, or S/S indicate genuine sterling silver with a high silver content. However, if the silverware lacks any of these marks, it is most likely plated silverware.

925 Hallmark

● The Color, Wear, and Tear

Plated silverware is usually shinier than genuine sterling silver. Sterling silver has a more glossy appearance but is less shiny.

You can also tell them apart by checking closely for flaking, faded, greening, or rusting areas. Only silver-plated flatware is prone to rusting, fading, or turning green over time.

● Cleaning/ Buffing Out

Cleaning silverware gently with a soft white cloth will also reveal whether it is genuine or plated silver. If the silverware is authentic, there should be a black mark on the white cloth caused by the silver’s oxides. Plated silver, on the other hand, will not leave a mark on the cloth.

Real silver tarnishes when it comes in contact with oxygen, this is caused by a chemical reaction. but silver plating adheres to the main metal beneath and thus leaves no mark.

● Affordability

Genuine sterling silverware is significantly more expensive than plated silverware. Since the silver plating on plated flatware is so thin that it cannot be recycled, it has a low value once it has been used.

When it comes to antique silverware, the value increases when it is made of real sterling silver, which also increases its resale value.

● Acid Test

While this test cannot be performed on silverware for sale, it can be performed on silverware in your possession to determine whether it is genuine or not. Testing the authenticity of silver should be performed by experts.

The acid test is conducted by applying nitric acid to silverware. If the silverware is counterfeit, there will be a green color emanating from the base metal (nickel). If it is genuine silver, nitric acid will produce a creamy white color due to the presence of nitrate in silver.

Be sure to run this test on a spot that is concealed. The use of nitric acid will change the color of the silverware permanently.

How to Identify Valuable Antique Silverware

Silver is naturally a valuable piece of metal. However, high-quality antique silverware sets are significantly more valuable.

Many factors come into play when determining the antique silverware value of one’s flatware set.

1. The Rareness of Silverware:

This is the most significant indicator of the silver set’s value. It only makes sense that the more common an item is, the less people want it, especially collectors. Therefore, rare, precious metals are highly valued because everyone wants them.

The rareness factor, when combined with a solid provenance, is like light to moths in the antique community. The provenance of an object is its documented ownership and origin history. It significantly increases the value of your silverware.

2. The Condition:

The overall condition of your silverware must also be considered. These are vintage items, so they will naturally show some signs of wear over time, but with regular care they can still look decent.

This is why it is generally recommended to clean your valuable silverware regularly and carefully to avoid damaging it and reducing its value. Cleaning also helps to make any markings or patterns on the vintage silverware visible.

Also, to preserve the value of your sterling silver, remember that drying them after washing prevents rust. Avoid altered pieces or silver that have personalized engravings on them. An appraiser will probably not even look at them twice.

Before being sold, even a rare piece of antique sterling silver flatware in poor condition must be restored to a better or its original condition.

3. Level of Skill or Workmanship:

The craftsmanship of genuine sterling silver has a substantial impact on its value. Consider the Sheffield antique serving flatware set, shown below. Because of how rare it is, this is a highly sought-after antique silver from the 19th century.

Isaac Ellis, the creator, crafted it out of metal, paper, and wood. It is a beautiful traditional piece with a floral and scroll pattern that is etched and pierced in a very detailed way.

The handles, made from bone, have a nice knobbly look. What incredible detail that can be admired from a distance!

Sheffield, 1896 By Isaac Ellis
Sheffield, 1896 By Isaac Ellis                Source: Etsy

The amount of skill and effort that goes into making them increases the value of old silverware more than the size of the object. The size of an item of antique silver is often mistaken for its quality, so it is important to stress that this is not always the case.

This misconception needs to be abandoned, however, because poorly made flatware lacks quality regardless of how fancy or well-designed it may be.

4. Hallmarks:

British system of sterling silver hallmark
British system of sterling silver hallmark        Source: Hobby Lark

If you own silver flatware, one of the certain ways to determine its value is through hallmarks. According to the Oxford Dictionary, these are marks stamped on articles of gold, silver, or platinum by British assay offices to certify their standard of purity.

In more recent times, hallmarks have been used to show the location of the specific assay office that assured the purity of the silver, as well as the maker. This means hallmarks are now also used as identification for the silver.

With the new improvements made, each country had a hallmark given to their silver flatware. People who are passionate about these precious metals and buy and sell silverware should be able to interpret hallmarks.

Eagle Sterling Co. Hallmark on silverware
Eagle Sterling Co. Hallmark on silverware    Source: American Sterling Silver Mark

Once you can tell the difference between the hallmarks for sterling silver and silver plated flatware, you can identify the more valuable silverware.

5. Get a Professional Appraisal for Antique Silverware Value:

Obtaining an appraisal of your antiques is another method for accurately determining your antique silverware value. As with any antique, a professional appraiser will determine the correct market value of your silverware using their trained eye.

This is the most important method for determining the value of old silverware that has been passed down over centuries. The best way to protect your valuable silverware is to have it professionally appraised, as insurance companies require precise documentation to cover antiques.

Professional appraisers can be found at the American Society of Appraisers, The Appraiser’s Society of America, and other similar organizations. You will have a larger selection to choose from, and you will be able to select someone who specializes in your particular antique.

List of Silver Flatware and Their Prices

This list includes old silverware and their market prices. It allows you to compare your precious metal pieces for similarities, which will give you a better idea of the value of your item. These are the retail prices for the antiques:

❖ Vintage PUIFORCAT French Silver (.800/1000) Dessert or Entremet Set, Original Box

On eBay, the vintage PUIFORCAT French silver flatware has a starting bid of $1,646. It dates between1900 and 1940, and the hallmark reads EP, which stands for Emile Puiforcat of the House of Puiforcat.

French Silver Dessert or entremet set
French Silver Dessert or entremet set Source: eBay

❖ 1862-1899 Christofle Chinon Filet Fiddle Silver Plated 39-piece Cutlery Set Salt

This exquisite set of silverware is available for a starting price of $648.00. It includes 6 dinner forks, 6 dinner spoons, 6 dinner knives, 6 dessert knives, 6 coffee spoons, 6 knife rests, 1 medium ladle, 1 salt pot, and 1 salt and pepper pot, as shown on eBay.

39-piece silverware flatware
39-piece silverware flatware

❖ 18pc Antique French Sterling Silver 18K – 22K Gold Vermeil & Pearl Knife Set

The price tag on this luxurious silverware set is set at $1,496.25 starting bid on eBay. With its pearl, silver-plated, and gold handle, this French antique silver set is elegant.

Antique French Sterling Silver and pearl knife set
Antique French Sterling Silver and pearl knife set

❖ 1758 Irish Georgian Sterling Silver Serving Spoons Set Dublin John Laughlin Sr

Bidding for this pair of silverware begins at $60 on eBay. This spoon and “spork” set was created in 1758 by John Laughlin (Dublin) and stand out due to the clear wheat etching on the handles and the curve of the handle.

Two Irish Georgian sterling silver spoons
Two Irish Georgian sterling silver spoons

List Of Silverware Sold at Auctions

As briefly mentioned above, the value of old silverware varies greatly depending on where it is being purchased or sold. This means that items sold at an auction house can fetch much higher prices than items sold in an antique store.

This concept of increased auction house prices is usually more specific to rare items that have specific marks or are in high demand. Commoner items will sell better in antique shops and other retail establishments.

If your silverware falls into the category of auction houses, this list is for you. You can also use the list to determine the possible price range for your item.

1. Silver Soup Tureen, Germany, Hanau circa 1850

In 2018, a winning bid of €4100 was placed on this silver soup tureen at the Catawiki exclusive antique auction.

Silver Soup Tureen ca 1850
Silver Soup Tureen ca 1850 Source: Catawiki.com

2. 18th Century Silver Teapot

In 2018, this 18th-century silver teapot from Groningen, Netherlands, sold for €1601.

A silver teapot
A silver teapot  Source: catawiki.com

3. Silver Condiment Set

The winning bid of €3,000 was placed on this silver condiment set made by Hendrik Smits in Amsterdam, around 1800. It was sold at the 2016 Silver Auction.

Silver condiment set on a silver tray
Silver condiment set on a silver tray Source: Catawiki.com

4. Antique French Napoleon III Era Sterling Silver & Ebony 24 Piece Dinner Knife Set

This dinner knife set dates from 1850-1899. Its starting cost for bidding is $1,346.25 on eBay. The handle is made of ebony and sterling silver, with empire style silver caps.

French Napoleon III Era Dinner Knife set
French Napoleon III Era Dinner Knife set  Source: eBay

Frequently Asked Questions

Where Can I Obtain a Sterling Silver Flatware Value Guide?

A sterling silver flatware value guide can be obtained from auction houses such as Brinham Auction House, online price guides such as Kovel, and online valuation stores such as eBay.

What Is the Best Way to Clean Antique Silverware?

When caring for silverware, you should take care not to scratch the surface. Regularly clean your item with a soft silver cleaning cloth, mild soap, and warm water. If the tarnish is more stubborn, you can remove it with a solution of baking soda, vinegar, salt, and boiling water. After this, it must be properly stored.

How Should I Store My Antique Silverware?

Wrap camphor or anti-tarnish paper around silverware to prevent tarnish. High humidity affects silver, so the relative humidity in the room should be average. If you don’t have climate-controlled storage, wrap your valuables in acid-free tissue paper or undyed cotton.

Conclusion

Your favorite silver pieces may be more valuable than you realize. Using the tips provided, you can determine valuable silverware and decide whether it is worth selling or if it should be kept in the family for sentimental value.

You must also send the appraisal documents from a professional appraiser to the insurance company if you want to secure your priced silver.

The silver weight is another way to determine the value of your flatware. This factor is obvious because the appraisal cannot take place unless your silver is weighed. If you have further questions about the value of antique silver, please leave them in the comments section below.

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