Whether you just inherited a full set of the family silver or you found a great deal at a garage sale, you may be wondering how to find the value of antique silver. Knowing whether old silverware is valuable involves a bit of investigation, but it's important. Some antique silver items sell for thousands of dollars, so it's essential that you take the time to check it out.
Types of Silver: Know What to Look For
Real antique silver is never without value, but there are a few details which you will need. The first thing you will want to do is to clean the silver gently so you can more easily read backstamps and markings. Called silver hallmarks, these can offer very important clues about how much your silver is worth.
Marks for Sterling and Silverplate
The marks on your silver can tell you a lot about its value. There are several types of silver, but these are the two you're most likely to encounter:
- Silverplate: Silverplate is a process of coating a base metal with silver so that the end results looks like the real thing but is actually much less costly. If the item feels light in weight for its size, it may be plated.
- Sterling silver: Sterling is stamped on the back with the word Sterling. It means that the silver is either pure or made of .925 silver with .075 copper added. All Sterling created in the United States after 1850 will be stamped with marks like "Sterling," ".925," and "925/1000."
If the silver does not have this mark, it is not sterling unless it is very old. If you suspect that your silver is quite old and may not be marked, you can take it to a professional to have it acid tested. This will determine whether the item is indeed real silver.
Value Difference Between Silver and Silverplate
Silverplate has no inherent value. It does not have enough silver in it to have value to someone to melt down, and generally, it may not have much resale value. If it is an heirloom, then it has sentimental value and you should use it often, with love.
Sterling silver is valuable because it can be refined and thus carries the current melt value for silver. Certain patterns and manufacturers are also especially popular with silver collectors. Antique silver is also valuable as an antique, sometimes far beyond what the silver content would dictate.
Tips on How to Find the Value of Antique Silver
Once your silver has been thoroughly cleaned, you can begin to examine it for backstamps and hallmarks. If the silver is marked as sterling, you can start the process for determining a ballpark value; however, an expert will be needed for an accurate appraisal and evaluation.
Understand the Role of Silver Melt Value
Sterling silver has melt value, or inherent worth due to the silver metal it contains. Although it's a horrible thought for many antiques enthusiasts, antique silver items are sometimes melted down during periods when the value of silver is very high. The changing value of silver metal means that the value of antique silver items changes constantly too.
For example, the value of a silver spoon as scrap can change dramatically. A silver teaspoon usually contains a bit less than one troy ounce of silver metal. In a ten-year period from 2012 to 2022, the value of one troy ounce of silver ranged from a high of $37.23 to a low of $12.01. This equates to about a $25 difference in the value of a sterling silver spoon as scrap. Antique sterling silver is always worth more when the melt value is high, even if no one is planning to melt it.
Find the Manufacturer and Pattern of Your Silver
However, your antique silver has value beyond the silver content. It's also valuable as an antique, so identifying the manufacturer and pattern are important. If you don't know the manufacturer or pattern of your silver, then you will want to find that first. Look on the back of your silver for a manufacturer's mark. It will be different from the sterling stamp. You can find a comprehensive guide at this online encyclopedia of silver hallmarks.
Once you find the manufacturer, then you will need to find the pattern. There are several ways to do this:
- Look at examples of antique flatware patterns from that manufacturer to see if any look similar. Often, a pattern could have slightly different designs for each piece in a set, so watch for an overall similar look.
- You can also describe the pattern and manufacturer in a Google search. For example, if you type in "Tiffany silver pattern vines and leaves," you will find several images. If one of the images matches, you will have found your pattern.
- Go to the library or order a book on silver patterns and see if you can find yours there. Although the values listed in these books are often out of date because of changing melt values, they are an excellent resource for identifying your silver. Warman's Sterling Silver Flatware: Value and Identification Guide by Phil Dreis is a good place to start.
- Finally, you can also a website like Replacements.com to the area designated to the manufacturer of your silver. Scroll through the images until you can match yours.
Assess the Condition of Your Antique Silver
Whether your antique silver is worth close to the melt value or much more can depend on its condition. Pieces in excellent shape are worth more because they are beautiful. Those with serious condition issues are worth less. Give your silver a gentle polishing and then examine it with a magnifying glass for the following:
- Obvious damage - From garbage disposal accidents to bent fork tines, major and obvious damage can dramatically reduce the value of your antique silver.
- Detail loss - Each time silver is polished, a little bit of metal is rubbed away. Over time, this can lead to detail loss on the pattern, which can make it less valuable.
- Monograms and monogram removal - Antique silver frequently carries the initials of the original owners. While monograms can be beautiful, they can also detract from the value. A rough spot where a monogram was removed also makes it less valuable.
Compare Your Silver to Similar Sold Pieces
Although you can see what stores and sellers are asking for similar silver items, it's important to remember that this isn't the same thing as value. People can ask whatever they want, but buyers may not be willing to pay it. Instead, look at recently sold items that are similar.
Performing a search of recently sold items on eBay is a good way to do this. Here's how:
- From the main eBay page, click on "Advanced Search" to the right of the main search area.
- Enter the item you're searching for.
- Click the box next to "Sold listings."
- Perform the search. You can sort results by price, date sold, or distance.
Consider a Professional Appraisal
Knowing how to find the value of antique silver is only part of evaluating it. Ultimately, for an accurate appraisal and evaluation, you will want to take your silver to a local appraiser. This is the only way to be sure of the value of your silver for either resale or insurance purposes.