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Evaluating Victorian and Antique Silver

Updated on February 4, 2013
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

Inheriting a large chest of the family silver can leave you wondering what the value might be. If you have stumbled upon a great deal at a garage sale you may need to find replacement pieces. Either way, evaluating your antique silver can be confusing if you are unsure what you are looking for.

First of all, antique silver is always valuable if for no other reason than the value of the silver. The problem is that it can be hard to tell whether you have antique silver or vintage silver plate, which is worth very little.

In order to evaluate your silver you will first need to clean it so that all the markings will show.

Source

How to Clean Antique Silver

  1. Always use a plastic dish tub when cleaning your silver to protect it from being scratched in a metal sink.
  2. Wash your silver in a phosphate free dish-soap that does not contain any scent or additives, especially citrus of any kind.
  3. Drain on a soft towel and put on pure cotton gloves, if possible.
  4. Gently dry the silver with a soft cotton dishtowel.
  5. If tarnish is very light you may be able to remove it with a cotton ball and Windex with vinegar.
  6. If you must use a silver cleaner use the least abrasive product that you can find such as 3M’s TarniShield, Twinkle or Weiman’s Silver Polish. For more heavily tarnished pieces you may need Wright’s Silver Cream.
  7. Use a soft cotton cloth and rub the tarnish gently according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

You should never use anything abrasive or the chemical dips on your antique silver. If you can’t remove the tarnish with a gentle cleaner you should talk to a professional about having it done.

Clean Antique Silver

Identify the Type of Silver

Once you have it cleaned you should be able to see the markings, although you may need a magnifying glass to see them clearly. You will have one of two types of silver.

Silverplate

Silverplating is the process of coating a base metal with silver. It will look like silver but is much less valuable and the silver coating can eventually wear off. The silver will feel light rather than heavy if it is plated. It should also be marked with the word silverplate somewhere on the piece.

Silverplate is not worth anything as far as material value, however if it is an heirloom it will have sentimental value. Use and enjoy it!

Sterling Silver

If you find the Sterling stamp you will know that the piece is real silver. All Sterling silver manufactured in the United States after 1850 will be pure silver or made with .925 silver and .075 copper. It will carry one of the following marks –

  • Sterling
  • .925
  • 925/1000

If you can’t find the mark the item is either silverplate or it is very old. If you think it was made before 1850 you can take it to a professional and have it acid tested to determine the silver content.

Silver will be worth the current value of its weight at the least. Because it is sterling it can be refined. It may be worth more as an antique, depending on the pattern, manufacturer and age.

Types of Antique SIlver

How to Find the Value of Victorian and Antique Silver

Take a piece of the clean silver and look closely for any markings. Most silver companies used backstamps and hallmarks to identify their product, whether Victorian or very old. If you find a hallmark that you are unfamiliar with the hallmark you may be able to identify it with this online encyclopedia of silver hallmarks.

If you know the manufacturer you can go to Replacements.com to find the exact pattern and replacement value. You should also be able to find the year your silver was made. You can also use the site to replace pieces that you might be missing.

If you are still unable to find the pattern don’t despair! Try running a Google image search with the manufacturers name and a description of the piece. For example, Gorham, oval wreath silverware. Look at the images that come up and try to match your piece to one of them.

If that doesn’t work you will need to spend time researching patterns by the manufacturer until you find one that matches yours. You can also go to your local library or buy a book on silver patterns.

For a truly accurate appraisal you will need to have it appraised by a professional. This will be necessary for insurance purposes. If you don’t need an exact value then the process outlined above should work find.

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    • Weldon Jewellers profile image

      Weldon Jewellers 3 years ago from Ireland

      as someone who works in the antique silver business, i think that this hub should be a must-read for collectors and for people who have a few pieces at home! great advice!!! :)

    • profile image

      Marea 5 years ago

      More interesting this information. Thank you!

    • shalycriston profile image

      Shaly Criston 5 years ago from USA

      Great Hub! Thanks to share

      And Congratulations to choosing your hub, Hub of the Day.

    • revortay1 profile image

      revortay1 5 years ago from PA

      Great guide! Thank you for all of the insight you have provided. I have book marked this hub as I'm Sure it will be useful in the future

      Oh, and congrats on the hub of the day!

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 5 years ago from Florida

      Congrats on Hub of The Day! Good advice here on silverware. I used to have some sterling, but I sold it because I needed $ some years ago. So sorry I had to do that! I voted this UP, etc.etc.

    • profile image

      5 years ago

      Good hub. Voted up.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Congratulations on Hub of the Day!

      This is a very interesting guide you've written.

      I drag out Mother's silver flatware only for special occasions. Usually, it needs to be polished. We learned quite a number of years back that a piece of plain white chalk, (such as is used in classrooms), added to the silver chest helps ward off tarnish. It does work, but some polishing will still need to be done if the silver service has been sitting for many years.

      Voted up, useful and interesting.

    • profile image

      vinsanity 5 years ago

      Great article. I actually learned something! Congrats on the Hub of the day.

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 5 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Great resource! Congrats on getting Hub of the Day!

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 5 years ago from United States

      When not in use, I wrap ours in plastic wrap to prevent it from turning & to prevent scratches. Great info! Did not know I could use Windex & vinegar to clean it! Thanks--and congrats on HOTD!

    • wallpapersfor profile image

      wallpapersfor 5 years ago

      That's good to know! Thanks!

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 5 years ago from sunny Florida

      Congratulations on hub of the day..in our family we have our treasured silverware from my childhood. i can remember sitting at our dining room table with towels spread out to keep the cleaner off the wood, carefully polishing and inspecting each piece as i finished. it was a job i rather loved.

      and now as i view the pieces i not only seem the craftsmanship but the memories of those childhood days come whooshing back. thank you for bringing that back again to mind....

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 5 years ago from London, UK

      Interesting information.

    • UlrikeGrace profile image

      UlrikeGrace 5 years ago from Canada

      Really good information...thanks

    • Gypsy Willow profile image

      Gypsy Willow 5 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

      Sadly silver tarnishes so I use stainless steel. Not so beautiful but much more practical.