Evaluating Victorian and Antique Silver
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.
How to Clean Antique Silver
- Always use a plastic dish tub when cleaning your silver to protect it from being scratched in a metal sink.
- Wash your silver in a phosphate free dish-soap that does not contain any scent or additives, especially citrus of any kind.
- Drain on a soft towel and put on pure cotton gloves, if possible.
- Gently dry the silver with a soft cotton dishtowel.
- If tarnish is very light you may be able to remove it with a cotton ball and Windex with vinegar.
- 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.
- 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.
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!
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 –
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.