Almost daily I get emails and phone calls from readers asking what a particular silver item they have is worth. Many are surprised at how complicated valuing an item of silver can be. I liken it to valuing a car, it will depend on its age, condition and maker amongst several other things.
Silver values increase with age of manufacture. There are many reasons for this but the obvious one is rarity. The older the item the more likely they will have been made by hand individually by a craftsman. Silversmiths served apprenticeships of many years and developed techniques of manufacture based around hand tools. Modern silver is often machine produced in part or whole and hence can be produced for much lower costs. Age affects styles; many periods of our history are linked to trends and fashion. Brand New Silver is often expensive in comparison as a result.
This is vital in valuing an individual piece. Most Antique Silver Items were produced as utensils or utility pieces, they had a function in the home which could still be fulfilled today if in good working condition. You may see a gorgeous pierced silver sugar basin for sale but if it does not come complete with its glass liner it will be of no use to your breakfast table or collection. Having said that Silver as a metal is comparatively soft. Antique silver will most certainly have been handled by staff over the years and is bound to have a few knocks and marks received from use. It would be almost impossible to purchase an antique silver item without some wear and tear.
Just as a modern day Mercedes is worth more than a Ford, so individual Silversmiths influence greatly an items value. Many Silversmiths specialised in producing highly crafted and decorated pieces which required many days and weeks of work. This skilled labour did not come cheap and hence individual silver items from highly skilled craftsmen cost more. As fashions grew in popularity so did the influence of individual Silversmiths. Those who produced items for the rich and wealthy built up reputations which have survived the years. Many collectors will only seek out and purchase silver made by their favourite Silversmith. This means there is a huge market demand for a limited number of pieces hence prices rise dramatically for their work compared to others. Hester Bateman Paul Store and many others have huge followings today of collectors prepared to pay a premium for their work.
Below is the sponsor mark for Hester Bateman whilst next to it is the sponsors mark for Roberts & Belk. The mark on the left for Hester Bateman is on a silver Coffee Pot which has an assay office stamp for London, The lion Passant stamp denoting fineness of silver to a minimum standard of 925 and a date letter for the year 1779 with a value of around £2600. The mark on the right is not silver. It is on an antique silver plate serving dish. The makers marks are for Roberts & Belk (who also produced quality silver items)and the letters EP stand for Electro Plate. This substantial serving dish is worth just £150 in comparison.
You may find a visit to Silver Makers Marks website helpful
Also this Value My Stuff Video from YouTube might again be helpful to you
Similar to my car analogy Silver also has a value as scrap metal. Unlike your modern motor car Silver has a scrap value as a precious metal and is still used today in many manufacturing industries. This means that your heavy antique silver items such as salvers or trays can increase in value as scrap metal prices rise. In the current financial markets with recession and financial uncertainty precious metal prices for Gold and Silver always rise. Silver Plate does not have such a scrap metal value as the content of silver in relation to the base metal is very small ie a fine coating of silver. There are a number of websites where you can get a current value of scrap silver. here is just one Hatton Garden Metals On the Home page there is a blue block marked calculator. In the drop down menu you will find Silver 925 which you select and then enter a weight of your silver to get the current price. Remember this is a guide price only to scap metal values.
The WOW Factor
I know, you will not see this term in any reference book but it is true of all collectors and buyers of antique silver. If you look at a piece for the first time and think WOW I want it then it has the WOW factor and its value just increased as you will not be alone in wanting to buy it.
Market forces fluctuate, currently scrap silver metal prices are high. Many dealers and sellers are choosing to sell items for scrap and pocket the profit. This is short term gain which can disrupt market prices. It can also make certain items scarce on the open market. For example flatware such as spoons and forks are usually a good weight of silver. These are frequently scrapped when prices are high. This means eventually they become scarce and prices therefore go up.
What will someone actually pay?
The acid test incorporating all of the points above is what will someone actually pay to buy the item? Now there are a number of simple tests you can make to value your own item of antique silver for free.
If you use eBay, or even if you do not they have a good search facility called eBay Completed Listings. If you search completed listings for antique silver you see a wide selection of antique silver items which have sold and what was paid for them. It also shows those not purchased with prices which is a good way of testing the eBay market place for prices.
You would also be wise to visit a local reputable auction house. They will be willing to give you a free appraisal of what they think they will be able to achieve at an auction for you for your item. They do however expect to charge you a commission fee upon a successful sale and the commission charge also attracts tax. Some auction houses also have a habit of taking their time in sending out your cheque!
You can also choose to sell direct to a dealer. Now bear in mind that any antique dealer has to make a profit. They have overheads like any business and are not buying your item to collect but purely to resell. They will consider all of the above based on what they think they can sell the item for. They will then deduct a percentage for profit and costs and value the item accordingly and make you an offer. This price will be nowhere near the prices displayed on their pieces for sale as a result.
So what seemed like a simple question, what’s it worth is far from simple in reality. Always seek expert advice and do as much research as you can before you decide to sell but also be realistic.