The world of silver is fascinating, but sometimes confusing with so many different eras, types, styles, patterns and symbols out there. Collecting silver is not only an enjoyable hobby, but it is also a good investment – if you know what you’re looking for.
To avoid pitfalls and ill-advised purchases we have put together a list of tips that we hope you will find useful.
1. Educate yourself
The Internet is a great source for research, but there are also several useful books for novice collectors, such as “Antique Silver” by Ian Pickford. There are online auctions you can tune in to, as well as TV shows such as Antiques Roadshow and Flog It: Trade Secrets that can teach you a thing or two about antique silver and other antiques too.
2. Choose what to collect
There are many specialty areas of silver collecting, so deciding what you’d like to collect is advisable. You can collect by maker, country of origin, style, a specific era, pattern, and so on. Also decide how much you are willing to invest in your collection, as it can affect what to collect. Most importantly, make sure you collect something you’re interested in and that appeals to you.
3. Learn to identify
Most British silver is marked with at least four symbols: the “sterling” mark that guarantees the purity of the silver, the “town” mark, which tells you the location of the assay office, the date mark (a single letter) and the maker’s mark. These hallmarks are generally good indicators of age and authenticity – they are in fact the oldest form of consumer protection known.
4. Study the period, era or style you want to collect
Again, to avoid making mistakes and to make good investments you need to familiarise yourself with whatever you’ve decided to collect – whether that is a specific style, period or maker.
5. Check for wear or damage
Although signs of use and slight damage might not necessarily detract from value, pristine pieces are always most desirable. If you decide to buy a damaged or dented piece it can always be restored and replated by a silversmith – but keep in mind that it also means added costs. Be wary of tarnished pieces as damage, such as scratches, isn’t as visible. Also, avoid pieces with an overly white appearance, as it can be a sign of over-cleaning with harsh chemicals.
6. Be aware of sets and pairs
Many silver items are made in sets or pairs (e.g. candlesticks), so avoid buying pieces that may have been part of a set or pair as it will lower the value of the item.
7. Check for marriages
A “marriage” is when the parts from two or more pieces are combined to make a single piece. An example could be a hallmarked, valuable base that has been attached to a handle that is less valuable and will devalue the whole piece. Marriages can be difficult to spot as they can be very skilfully executed, so always inspect the items carefully.
8. Look out for forgeries
As we mentioned earlier, most British silver will have four or more symbols, which serve as indicators of authenticity. However, these symbols have been forged for hundreds of years, so be careful. Popular pieces, such as salt spoons and rare pieces in general are the most common ones to be forged. Forgeries can be hard to spot, but the more educated you are the easier you will spot them.
9. Be aware of monograms
There are divided opinions on whether custom engravings devalue the piece, but a general rule is that silver is more valuable without a monogram. Though there are exceptions, for example if the monogram isn’t very noticeable or gets lost in the design or if it is a rare, discontinued pattern. There are also collectors that see old, decorative monograms as a form of historically significant art and will value the piece even more if it has a monogram.
10. Don’t be afraid to ask
When buying online, don’t hesitate to contact the seller and ask for more information and images. Same goes for when you’re visiting auctions or shops. Most sellers are happy to tell you more about the item in question.
We’re Scottish silver experts
We hope that you have learned something and that you will enjoy your silver collecting. If you’d like to take a look at what we have in our shop or have any questions, don’t hesitate to browse our website or get in touch.
+44 (0)131 445 3823