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Antique Silver

A Complete Guide to Buying Antique Silver

Antique silver is highly collectable. With its aesthetically pleasing sheen and amazing designs, there are a lot of options out there for both beginner and experienced collectors as well as those looking to buy the perfect gift for a special occasion.

From christening spoons and goblets to antique salvers and trophies, good quality silver not only looks fantastic but maintains its value over the years.

A Brief History of Antique Silver

Silver is one of the seven metals of antiquity and has been utilised throughout history for a variety of functional and decorative purposes.

While the heyday of silver production was undoubtedly in the 18th and 19th centuries, silversmiths are still working today to create amazing products from salvers and trophies to tankards, cutlery sets, christening spoons and mirror frames.

Silver mining goes back many centuries to around 5-7BC and the metal was often used for coinage in those early days. It was certainly considered magical by our ancestors and even later on in Medieval times was thought to have numerous health benefits.

Around the 15th century, we see silver being used more and more to create decorative objects for the growing landed gentry who had plenty of money to spend.

The explosion of silver manufacture and design started during the reign of Louis XIV in France and quickly spread across Europe. The 18th century saw the emergence of important silversmiths such as Paul La Lamerie and Garrad. By the 19th century, silverware had become much more accessible as it was mass-produced using new industrial techniques including silver plating.

The Benefits of Buying or Collecting Antique Silver

Silver is without doubt one of the most attractive metals on the planet. When properly looked after the shine of silver makes it a central focus in any room and it’s no surprise that it’s often used for trophies. Antique silver can vary from very ornate to much simpler shapes and lines and there is something for everyone’s taste.

One big benefit of buying silver is that it tends to hold its value very well irrespective of what’s happening in markets around the world. Apart from the intrinsic value of the metal itself, antique silver also benefits from age and provenance that can add to its worth over time.

What to Look for When Buying Antique Silver

The range of different products that are made from silver is vast and, if you’re a collector, it’s a vocation of endless possibilities and discoveries. You’ll find silver items at car boot sales, in house clearances, online and being sold by professional silversmiths and antique dealers across the world.

1. Condition

When buying antique silver, the first thing to look for is the condition. If you’re picking it up from a car boot sale, the piece may be tarnished and have some damage and this can be difficult to rectify. If you buy from a silversmith, it’s important to look at the restoration and whether this is in keeping with the age and style of the piece.

2. Solid Silver vs Silver Plate

Silver plating is a process where you overlay silver on a less expensive metal like brass or pewter. It’s often used in jewellery and found widely in decorative tableware.

Solid silver antiques are more than 92.5% pure and the intrinsic value is greater. All antique silver of this type should come with a hallmark that is easily found somewhere like the base. This is a series of stamps that confirm the validity of the silver, its quality, who made it and when.

You can find our guide to solid silver hallmarks here.

Antiques can be either solid silver or silver-plated and are both highly collectable. For instance, WMF silver plated art nouveau is very popular and many collectors are huge fans of this type of design.

3. Pick the Right Dealer

Some collectors and buyers like to hunt through internet listings and search car boot sales for bargains and that’s fine. If you want to be sure that you are getting a bonafide antique silver item it pays to go through a reputable dealer or silversmith. It’s always a good idea to do your research and check reviews.

4. Check the Market Value

Whether you’re buying an Armada dish, a goblet or a christening spoon, it also helps if you can gauge what the right price you should be paying is.

Various factors affect the cost of antique silver from the quality of the metal itself to its age, provenance and condition and whether it’s been restored or not. The good news is it’s relatively easy to do some research online to make sure you are paying a competitive price.  

Antique vs Vintage Silverware

One aspect new collectors or buyers get confused with is the difference between antique and vintage silverware. This is a case of semantics but in general, vintage silverware was made less than a hundred years ago and antique is considered older.

That means anything made after 1922 up until about the turn of the century can be considered vintage, anything before that is antique.

While it can be a significant factor in pricing, it’s by no means the only thing to think about. The quality of the silver, its weight, the maker and provenance all play a role.

Categories s of Antique Silver

Whether you are considering buying antique silver as an investment or as a gift for someone, there are a lot of different categories to choose from. These include trophies, cutlery, spoons and napkin rings and the like, all of which are highly affordable for the beginner silver collector and one-off buyer.

Silver Trophies

Antique silver trophies can be a great niche area to get into if you are a collector. The most valuable items were created in the 19th and early 20th centuries but there are later ‘vintage’ trophies that are also worth investing in.

Some of the best examples of antique trophies come from the mid-1800s with elegant designs from such renowned manufacturers as Walker and Hall and Charles Stuart Harris.

Silver trophies are not just popular with investors and collectors, they can be repurposed to be used for current sporting and other competitive events. A new plinth or base is added to the existing antique trophy which can be engraved for any competition. The great thing about antique silver trophies is that they hold their value well and become highly collectable.

Check out our guide to buying antique silver trophies.

Silver Cutlery

Whether it’s individual pieces or complete collections, silver cutlery remains a popular choice whether you are buying to spruce up your dining experience or buying for an investment. Individual pieces can be bought for under £100 and antique sets can set you back around £20,000 and more depending on the provenance and condition.

Even a modern sterling silver set can set you back several thousand pounds but you can expect that investment value to improve over time. There are several things to look at here when choosing the right cutlery. Some designs are modern and sleek, others have intricate designs. While single pieces of cutlery are widely available, getting hold of a full matching set isn’t without its challenges.  

Read our guide to buying antique silver cutlery.

Silver Christening Gifts

Silver is one of the most popular choices for christening gifts and there are a lot of options out there. From the traditional silver christening spoon to antique bookmarks and cups, there are some amazing and ornate gifts for under £100.

Silver has been given for christenings and baptisms for hundreds of years, as far back as the Middle Ages. It was thought to ward off evil and protect the new baby from disease but in later years became a prestige statement for more affluent families.

During the Victorian era, antique christening gifts became a lot more ornate and were valued as an investment in the child’s future. Today, silver gifts remain the most popular way to celebrate a christening.

Read our blog on buying antique silver christening gifts.

Silver Christening Spoons

When it comes to presents for the newborn, you can’t get more traditional than the silver christening spoon. This is often given by a close member of the family and is normally engraved with the initials of the child.

Christening spoons are part of many religions across the world and they not only commemorate the special occasion but have great sentimental value.

Again, this is a tradition that dates back hundreds of years. In Victorian times, christening spoons became a lot more ornate and some antique ones such as apostle spoons, which have images of the 12 apostles and various saints engraved into the handles, are very intricate and widely sought after.

Check out our guide to silver christening spoons.

Silver Napkin Rings as a Gift for New Babies

Almost as popular as christening spoons are silver napkin rings. Small and elegant, these are not only widely available but highly collectable too. If you are searching for something meaningful for a gift then this is a great option that comes at a reasonable cost.

Silver napkin rings began to emerge in the early 1800s. So in demand were they that by the end of the 19th century practically every silversmith in Europe was producing them.

The designs vary greatly from the very simple to the highly ornate and it’s no surprise that there’s a huge collectors market out there today. Napkin rings can be engraved with the baby’s name and are likely to grow in value over the years.

Read our guide to antique silver napkin rings.

Silver Armada Dishes

Drake or Armada dishes are a great option if you are looking to invest in silver. The originals were produced during the Elizabethan period and have a distinctive bowl and rim.

If you were looking to buy an original plate, there’s no doubt that it would set you back as much as £30,000 for a single one. Reproductions are more widely available made out of solid and plate silver and these can cost in the region of a few hundred pounds depending on age and maker.

Because of the size and shape, these make ideal dishes for presentations and awards and are often given as retirement gifts. They can also be used for christenings and anniversaries.

Check out our guide to buying silver Armada dishes.

Antique Silver Goblets

There’s nothing more spectacular than a fully restored antique silver goblet displayed in a cabinet for all to see. They are also used for events such as christenings and weddings and for awarding the odd prize or two.

While silver goblets are seen as more ornamental nowadays, there are complete sets that you can buy which can be used for special dining events.

The first silver goblets were being manufactured in the 15th century and over the years many elaborate and ornate designs have been created. A set of antique goblets from the time of Oliver Cromwell recently fetched just under £10,000 at auction.

Often used in religious ceremonies, silver goblets are highly collectable and, as with most solid silver items, retain and appreciate over time.

Read our tips for buying antique silver goblets.

WMF Silver Plated Art Nouveau

One of the most collectable areas in antique silver is WMF silver plated art nouveau. The WMF or Württembergische Metallwarenfabrik is a tableware manufacturing company based in Germany that first began production way back in 1853.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, they began producing ornate silver-plated tableware in the art nouveau style, under the control of sculptor and designer Albert Mayer.

These pieces are characterised by their intricate designs and are often found in auctions around the world. The types of antique silver range from amazing silver goblets, mirrors, picture frames and cups to decanters and inkstands.

Some collectors focus entirely on WMF silver plated art nouveau and pieces can vary in price from several hundred pounds to over a thousand.

Read our guide on buying WMF silver plated art nouveau.

There are lots of different options when buying antique silver, whether you’re a collector or you just want something exceptional for a one-off gift. Silver itself easily retains its value and you can expect antique items such as goblets, plates and christening spoons to appreciate over time.

If you are searching for antique silver, using an established silversmith or antique dealer can ensure you get access to a wide range of decorative styles and makers that have been lovingly restored.

Visit the Edinburgh Silver website today to find out more.

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