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Antique silver is a large subset of the antique market. This niche includes pure silver forged by hand and mass-produced silver plated items made by machinists. As such, the value of antique silver varies tremendously from one piece to the next. People who buy antique silver tend to favor rare, well-made pieces.
If you are looking for details on a specific piece, this beginner silver buyer’s guide will help you start the antique assessment process. Read the following steps carefully if you want to know how to buy antique silver without getting ripped off.
1. Research the Dealer
Sometimes you can score a deal on antique silver from an unreliable dealer if you’re very knowledgable. However, you could get ripped off, too. If you don’t know much about antiques, purchasing from a reliable source is essential. You’ll need to depend on the antique dealer to provide accurate information and pricing. Before making a purchase, ask yourself the following questions.
Online Antique Dealer FAQs
- Do they have good feedback?
- How long have they had their business?
- Do they have a permanent establishment or set up at temporary spots?
- What is their specialty? Most dealers specialize in a handful of areas. No one knows everything there is to know about every antique out there.
2. Look up Hallmarks
Antique dealers will first look for a hallmark. A hallmark or makers mark is an imprint on the bottom of a piece indicating the age, metal purity, maker, and city of manufacture.
Does the piece in question have any hallmarks? If so, do a little research before you purchase. If there is no hallmark, there is a chance the antique is either silverplated OR it is ancient coin silver (which can b worth a lot of money). The United States didn’t widely adopt the process of assaying silver until 1868.
There are thousands of hallmarks, so remembering them all is unlikely. Instead, familiarize yourself with some of the more well-known silver hallmarks to effectively buy antique silver.
Famous Silverplate Manufacturers
- 1847 Rogers Bros.
- Community Plate
- Wm. Rogers
- Holmes & Edwards
3. Find a Fair Market Value
The value of antique silver can be all over the place. Before you spend anything over $50, try to determine a fair market range for the item. First, check out this silverplated value guide. Silverplated antiques are much more common than sterling silver. Learn the difference between the two.
Next, do a quick antique silver appraisal and then search some databases to develop an overall value. Some antique databases require a subscription, but you can quickly search sold items on eBay to gauge the market. Make sure you’re looking at a sold price and not a list price. Item prices that have sold are green, and unsold items are in red.
How to Appraise Silver
- If the item is sterling silver, assess the weight and determine a melt value.
- Examine the item for condition and patina. Remember that many antique silver items will have minor scratches and blemishes that can help distinguish them from newer reproductions.
- Determine if the item has been restored in any way. Check out joints to look for solder repair marks. Also, check if the color of the silver matches the age of the item or if the item’s surface has been overly polished.
4. Purchase Quality Antique Silver
The best antique silver for you is whatever appeals to your taste. However, within that taste range, you should aim to purchase the best quality piece you can reasonably afford. Quality antiques have a better chance of maintaining or increasing their value over time. Here are some qualities that will help you buy valuable antique silver.
Quality Silver Characteristics
- A well-known hallmark
- A quality stamping to indicate the metal purity (unless the silver is hundreds of years old)
- An intricate and well-executed design
- An antique that hasn’t been overly restored but is also in good condition for its age
5. Care for Your Silver
After you buy antique silver, the next thing you need to do is care for it. Some people will tell you to keep it polished and tarnish-free. I tend to disagree. The best course of care for antique silver is slowing down the tarnishing process so that minimal polishing is required. Here’s how you can prevent premature tarnish build-up.
How to Store Silver
- Store your antique silver in an air-tight cabinet.
- Be sure there is no excess moisture around the silver. Use felt and absorbent packets to help minimize humidity in the air.
- Wash your hands before handling silver. Wear clean cotton gloves whenever handling silver to avoid transferring oils and acids that can speed up tarnishing.
- Polish silver with a gentle polishing cloth. Avoid using harsh abrasive cleaners and methods.