Antique Silver

By Sarah Manners

The History of Silver

Century’s ago when silversmiths first started working with
silver they discovered that it was far too soft to work with and
had to be assimilated with other, more resilient, base metals
before it could be moulded. It is due to this discovery that
from 1300 BC all silver metals had to be tested to show that
they contained more than 92.5% silver.

This hallmarking system has survived to present day without
much change. It is these hallmarks that provide silver
collectors with their most important identification tool.
Hallmarks are stamped by the Official Assay Offices, together
with the marker’s own mark, so you can identify where, when and
who made the pieces of silver. You can also learn to tell if the
style of the piece is consistent with the date indicated by its
markings. Although this hallmarking system of marking was most
rigorously applied in England, most countries have some form of
identifying marking system. For example Mexico use numbers that
signify the quality of a piece.

Antique Appreciation

An antique is described as being an object which has reached a
certain age and has become a witness of a previous era in human
society. Antiques are usually objects that show a high degree of
craftsmanship and attention to detail and design. In a today’s
society an antique is above all an object whose atypical
construction and age give it a market value superior to similar
objects of recent manufacture. Silver is a valuable commodity
amongst those on the antique scene and despite changing
fashions, old silver pieces remain collectable.

Antique collecting is becoming more popular amongst society as
a whole, where as in the past collecting was thought to be a
hobby enjoyed only by those who enjoyed wealth and a certain
social standing. More and more people are becoming educated in
antiques and are beginning to see pieces of value in their own
homes. Television programming such as BBC’s “Cash in the attic”,
“Antiques road show” and “Bargain Hunt” have done wonders in
educating society about all things antique.

Researching Antique Silver

Determining whether your items of silver are valuable or not is
not as hard as it may sound, you could have it professionally
appraised or you could take the time to do some research at your
local library or on the Internet.

There are a number of facts that make your research easier,
particularly the official hallmark and the stamp indicating the
craftsman’s name. They immediately disclose the item in which
the item was made and by whom.

There are a few key items of information that will make your
research easier: what is the marker’s mark, the decade in which
the item was crafted and so on. There are many websites
dedicated to antique silver online and you could even enter into
a web discussion with its members who may be able to offer you
some valuable information about your silver collection.

Silver Plating

Silver plated articles also have considerable antiquarian
value. Good pieces can have up to 40 microns of pure silver
electro-plated onto a base metal, usually copper or nickel.
Years of abrasive cleaning may often have worn away some of the
silver plating, but this is looked upon as proof of age and such
items should not be re-plated or they will lose considerable
value. Silver service cutlery is all silver plated, with
traditional patterns like Kings or Queens being very

Whilst silver plated pieces have obviously less value than
solid silver, they are often much sort after by collectors.

Silver Collectors

Some silver collectors devote their attention to a specific
pattern while others collect a particular maker, era or item.
The silver you chose to collect does not need to adhere to any
of these specifications – don’t be afraid to mix and match. When
purchasing silver, signs of use do not always detract from value
and damage may or may not. In fact slight damage on a rare piece
will not significantly reduce value, if at all.

Be wary of buying tarnished pieces as it can easily be hiding
wear, damage or repair. Ask yourself why someone selling such
items has not cleaned them to show them at their best. So
inspect tarnished items with particular care.

Having a monogram on an item will often detract from its price.
This is much more common on silver plated rather than solid
silver pieces. Sometimes attempts have been made to remove
monograms, damaging them as well as lowering their value.

Make sure that you are educated enough to be able to spot
repairs that have been made to items as well as forgeries that
do crop up at less reputable markets or websites.

Caring for your Silver

Looking after antiques is the most important part in owning
them. They need to be taken care of properly to ensure that they
remain valuable, attractive and collectable. Whether your silver
is modern or antique it is very important to take proper care of
it as it’s value and beauty are prized. Always maintain your
silver with a non-abrasive cleaner. Every time you buff and
polish you remove a fine layer.

Over the years such treatment removes hallmarks and eventually
removes the silver plated surface. Museums use an electrolytic
process which is quite harmless. These are available for
domestic use and remove tarnish in seconds.Tarnishing
(oxidisation) occurs when silver is exposed to the air. Items
that are not for display like cutlery can be kept airtight in a
drawer wrapped in a cloth – otherwise they will need cleaning
each time you use them.

Storing Silver

When storing silver the best way to keep it safe from harmful
sulphur in the air is to seal it in an air tight container. This
said it is not always practical to store your pieces in such
containers. In cases like this a sachet containing activated
charcoal can help to reduce tarnishing significantly.

Activated charcoal is effectively an air scrubber which removes
pollutants like sulphur from the air around your silver. It is
also a good idea to keep a bag of activated charcoal in your
display cases or jewelry box. Charcoal can only absorb a certain
amount of sulphur before it becomes ineffective so sachets must
be replaced at least once a year.

After prolonged storage, your silver will need to be cleaned,
but if stored correctly it will be a far less daunting task.
Don’t use ordinary newspaper to wrap the silver or use elastic
bands to bind several pieces together. After a while the rubber
will bond to the silver as the band deteriorates and rots,
leaving a stain, as will newspaper. Instead, use acid-free paper
to wrap items and store where it’s not damp.

Appreciating your Silver

To ensure that your items of silver remain in the best possible
condition whether they are antique or modern pieces it is
imperative that they are cleaned and stored correctly. Silver
crafts are valued works of art that should be treasured. Hold on
to pieces of silver and treat them well, it will only add to
their value in later years.

About the Author: Caring for your antiques is the most
important part in owning them but this doesn’t need to be as
hard as it sounds. The Qwicksilver company have patented a non-abrasive
electrolytic cleaning plate that quickly removes tarnish under
water in your sink. They also offer advice on proper care of
your antique


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