There is nothing quite like silver on lace under candlelight. If you enjoy the bling and elegance of antique sterling silver and silverplate, whether for your interior decor or table service, you can often find it in plentiful supply at reasonable prices at estate auctions. Here are a few tips to help the novice decide which pieces are worth buying and what to leave behind.
1. TARNISH Don't be afraid of tarnish, even black tarnish. Tarnish alone is not bad, it just hurts your arm as it may need some serious,
time-consuming, arm-aching labor.
BUT once it is cleaned up, if cared for properly, that doesn't need to happen again.
2. DENTS are bad news unless you just want to set it on a shelf, you probably don't want to by dented pieces. The exception to that rule, would be fine sterling pieces that have tiny pin-dot dents around the base.
These are common on soft sterling and aren't a major factor in value.
3. PITS and CORROSION (rust) are bad news. Avoid them unless you want to have a piece restored to match a family heirloom. There are silver restoration specialists who can reclaim just about anything, for a price.
4. BUY THE UNUSUAL. If you are new at this, try looking at all the pieces being offered at an auction,
then decide which of these pieces is the most unusual. Unusual could mean a mark you have never heard of,
or a weird serving utensil, or a gaudy piece of hollowware. Of course, always be on the lookout for Tiffany, Kirk-Stieff, Gorham, Wallace.
5. BUY a 10x MAGNIFYING JEWELER'S LOUPE. These are available on eBay and will help you see the tiniest hallmark on silver.
6. SEARCH THE INTERNET to help you identify marks found on silver.
7. Buy some HAGERTY SILVER POLISH which you can find in my eBay store, estatesilver. NEVER use liquid silver dips as they remove silver and the patina.
8. Buy some books on eBay to help you identify patterns. I recommend: SILVERPLATED FLATWARE by Tere Hagan and STERLING FLATWARE by Tere Hagan.
Most every pattern ever made is shown in one of these books.
9. Don't forget your library. You may be surprised to find that your library has these titles. Depending on the quality of your library, they may be willing to buy a book for the library at your request or they may be able to get it on an interlibrary loan.
We have THE BEST library and they have helped me out in all of these ways. Before long you'll decide you have to have your own copy.
FLATWARE: A term used to describe an eating utensil, as a knife fork or spoon. It also includes the serving utensils that might go with a flatware set, such as a large meat fork, ladle, or pie server.
HOLLOWWARE (also spelled hollow ware or holloware): A term used to describe any silver item that isn't flatware. It could be decorative or for the dinner table food service, such as a vase, tureen, gravy boat, bowl, platter, tea service, etc.
EPNS: Mark found on the bottom of either hollowware or flatware which stands for Electro Plated Nickel Silver
CHASING: The decorative detailing of silver by striking tiny punches with a hammer onto silver creating decorative detailing, like flowers, leaves, designs.
ENGRAVING: Cutting shallow lines into metal to create monograms, initials, names, dates, etc. If this is done with a machine, it does not remove silver, but done by hand, it does remove silver in the process.
MARKS -- These 3 are all related and many people use the terms interchangeably.
HALLMARK: Stamped maker's mark
HOUSE MARK: Logo of a specific manufacturer
MAKER'S MARK: Signature of a specific individual
PATINA: This has various meanings, but the most common has come to be used to describe the color that silver takes on over the years. (Not tarnish) It describes an aging process that really cannot be gained any way except with time.
A secondary use of the term, is to describe the factory applied darkness to certain areas of a piece giving definition to the pattern or design. Generally, one wants to preserve the patina.
This is why it is BAD to use liquid silver cleaners like you see advertised on TV because these actually
remove silver in the process of cleaning, thereby stripping the patina, the elements that define the pattern.
REPOUSSE: (RE-PO-ZAY) Rough embossing from the back side which creates a pattern on silver. Newer patterns are made to look like repousse, but there are few that are actually done with this old method.
STERLING SILVER: A standard set by many of the world's governments defining the quality or grade of silver must be 92.5%.
This is seen on silver marks as .925 or 925/1000 or simply as the word STERLING. (Pure silver is not used as it is too soft to be functional.)
SILVERPLATE: A process that covers other harder metals, such as copper, nickel, brass, steel, with a coating of silver.
This comes in various grades and is seen on silver marks as A1 , Quadruple, Triple Silver, Deep Silver and others.
If it doesn't say STERLING, 99% of the time it is silverplate.
SILVER was mined as early as 2500 BC in Asia Minor as it was recognized for its beauty and creatability (OK, I made up that word, but I think you know what I mean.) It is harder than gold, softer than copper and found in many places on our precious planet.
The largest caches are in Peru and Norway, but is also plentiful in the American southwest and Mexico.