The MGS Precious Metals Blog

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How Much Is Your Hand-Me-Down Silver Flatware Worth?

March 15, 2011 06:10

If you inherited silverware from a great aunt or grandmother, what kind of value does this legacy bring with it? Is there a potential return?

The answer to that question depends greatly on the age of the silver and the way that it was made. If you are truly interested, you may want to have it professionally appraised by a jeweler.

Silver flatware for dining came into use in 12th Century England, and was fashioned out of the same quality of silver being circulated in coins. As a result, for several centuries, only members of the royal families could afford such luxury items. While you could melt it down, silver flatware from this period in its original form would be highly valued for its historic, antique properties to museums and collectors.

Two cultural changes led to widespread use of silverware. The Industrial Revolution opened the way for these formerly luxury items to be produced in mass quantities. At the same time, the resulting personal fortunes broadened the upper middle class, and starting in the mid-1800's, silverware became increasingly popular as a way to display new wealth, gentility and an improved standard of living. Otherwise, how do we explain the need for a bouillon spoon, a butter spreader, place knife, pastry fork, the demitasse and coffee spoons?


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Silverware handed down from this period is ornate, beautifully made and often, heavily gilded, if not solid silver. But then things started to change.

The Great Depression led to a decline in finances. Although the desire for fine things didn't decrease, in many cases, the money just wasn't there. Also, increased labor costs caused the wealthy to reconsider the number of servants involved in 10 course dinners and polishing the silverware. Silver-plating became a more common, standard practice. Since ornate silver requires hand polishing to maintain the intricate designs, simpler designs also came into vogue.

Modern silver-plate is very thinly applied. Plating factories use an electro-plating process where the silver molecules are dispersed in liquid and then an electric current is run through the item to be plated, which attracts the molecules to adhere to the item.

So what have you got stashed away? Unless your silver is "sterling" (92.5% pure) and not plated, it is likely its greatest value is in the emotional attachment you may have with the person you inherit it from or as providing some decorator "kitsch" in your home. With the price currently running at nearly $35 per ounce, in consideration of both the amount of silver used in plating most silver flatware and the cost involved in remelting and refining the silver out of the silverware, it is not considered cost effective to recycle silver-plated flatware to harvest the precious metals value. If your silverware is "sterling," we're happy to help you remelt it to capture the value of it, but if it's in good condition, you may get better value at auction or with a collector.

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