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Many people visit antique stores to get their silverplate tea sets and platters appraised, hoping that they strike gold. In most cases, their items are worth much less than they thought. Unfortunately, the value of silver plate is relatively low compared to other silver antiques. So how much is this common antique worth? Is a full silver plate tea set worth more than a teapot? Are there any pieces that are worth collecting? We spoke with a seasoned antique dealer for more information.
Meet the Expert
What Is Silverplate?
Silverplate is a type of houseware made from base metal and plated with a thin coating of silver. It has the look and feel of sterling silver for a fraction of the cost. Silver plating is a process in which a thin layer of silver is plated over a base metal such as copper or brass. This process protects the underlying metal from corrosion or oxidation, thus increasing its longevity.
The process of silver plating was invented in 1742 by Thomas Boulsover, who introduced old Sheffield plate. He mastered this process when he was repairing a knife made of copper and silver. He discovered that he could fuse copper and silver through a fortunate accident. This finding would lead him and several manufacturers to cut the cost of producing silver items.
Is Old Sheffield Plate Collectible?
Around 1840, the process of electroplating was invented, which inevitably cut production costs further. An electrical current is used to apply a very thin layer of silver to the top of the base metal. During the Victorian era, there was a high demand for silver housewares. Manufacturers would implement these processes to create cheap silver plate items that looked like the real thing. People who would otherwise not be able to buy silver could now afford it, and so it was mass-produced.
Silverplate Market Value
The antique silverplate market fluctuates. Despite that, certain items still sell well. “We have always sold antique Victorian Plate extremely well as it makes wonderful anniversary, wedding, and birthday gifts,” David Wyler explains.
In old Sheffield Plate, Wyler’s most popular sellers include:
- Pairs of candlesticks
- Wine coasters
In antique Victorian Plate, Wyler says the following utilitarian items are popular:
- Berry spoons in cases
- 24 piece dessert sets in cases
- Asparagus Tongs
- 2 piece fish sets
- Toast racks
- Cake baskets
- Syphon stands
Worth of Common Items
Value Cheat Sheet
|Silverplate Flatware Set (Service for 8)
|$50 – $200
|Silverplate Tea Set
|$75 – $450
|$40 – $250
|Silverplate Candlesticks (Pair)
|$30 – $450
|Silverplate Serving Bowl
|$25 – $325
|Silverplate Goblets (Set of 4)
|$40 – $120
|Silverplate Napkin Rings (Set of 4)
|$20 – $180
|Silverplate Salt and Pepper Shakers
|$15 – $175
|Silverplate Gravy Boat
|$20 – $300
|Silverplate Punch Bowl Set
|$50 – $600
The scrap value of silverplate is typically low because it contains only a thin layer of silver over a base metal, making its silver content minimal. Since silver-plated items have very little actual silver content, be sure to research the item before you spend a lot of money. Sterling silver antiques are generally worth significantly more—both in scrap value and resale value.
Beginner Collecting Tips
Every collector needs to start somewhere, but it’s important to focus on items you love. “For any new beginning customer, we would suggest reading about antiques as well as visiting antique shows and stores. We would encourage you to have confidence as well as trust in the person and/or company you are working with,” Wyler says. “We also would want them to stand by their products. Also, any new customer should hopefully love the new piece that they are acquiring.” Here are some other silverplate-specific collector’s tips.
Look for hallmarks.
One factor that will impact silver plate value is the manufacturer. If you are curious about what your silverplate item is worth, check if there are hallmarks and lookup antiques from that company. If you are looking to find a bargain, get familiar with some more popular manufacturers and hallmarks that tend to sell for more money.
Identify unusual patterns.
Several factors can influence the desirability of a silverplate item. For example, a later piece with no detailing is likely less desirable than one with various motifs. More expensive antiques tend to have:
- Elaborate patterns with floral reliefs or repoussé
- Funky shapes in a specific style like Art Deco or Art Nouveau
- High-quality etchings
Collect less common items.
One of the more common (and least valuable) silverplate items is flatware. Unfortunately, there is an oversupply of silverware. Why? Pretty much every family owned a set in the 1950s. The demand for this item is also very low. Silver-plated flatware is very high maintenance, so most people prefer stainless steel nowadays. Some higher-value silverplated items might include:
- Odd sized platters and serving dishes
- Very early and decorative pieces
- Items with elaborate enamel designs
- Collectible souvenir spoons
- Pieces with gold or rose gold detailing
- Silverplated holloware
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, silverplate items can tarnish over time. Tarnish is a thin corrosive layer that develops on the surface due to exposure to air and moisture. Regular cleaning and proper storage can help slow down the tarnishing process.
The key difference between sterling silver and silverplate lies in their composition and value. Sterling silver consists of 92.5% silver, making it valuable due to its weight and precious metal content, which can be sold based on the current metal market. This intrinsic value makes solid silver antiques a potentially good investment.
On the other hand, silverplate is a base metal coated with a thin layer of silver, containing only a minimal amount of silver. This makes scrapping silverplate uncommon because it holds little to no significant melt or scrap value. The value of silverplate items primarily depends on their rarity, decorative appeal, and the antique market rather than the metal market.
To determine if silverplate is damaged, look for areas where the silver layer appears thin or has disappeared, revealing the golden-, copper-, or pewter-colored base metal underneath. Signs of wear include discoloration, dullness, or an uneven surface.
While tarnish is a removable dark layer that forms due to oxidation, worn silverplate has lost some of the silver coating, exposing the base metal underneath. Some individuals may mistake wear for tarnish, leading them to over-polish the item, which can inadvertently cause further damage by removing more of the silver coating. Polishing silverplated items too aggressively can cause wear because the excessive pressure may remove the thin layer of silver.