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Collecting Hotel and Railroad Silver
What is Hotel or Railroad Silver?
In bygone eras, the finest hotels and forms of transportation served their guest with fine china and real silver...some sterling, but mostly silverplate. Collectors highly prize these items for their historical value, their association with famous people and places, as well as for their enduring beauty.
Silverplate made for use by hotels and railroads had to be durable, to withstand heavy use and repeated washing. Instead of the usual 1 to 4 layers of silver plating, hotel and railroad silver was usually plated 10 to 12 times. The result was silverplated items that retain their beauty through decades...even centuries of use, as will be illustrated in the true story below.
The Tale of an Ansonia Hotel Silver Cream Pitcher
There and Back Again
This is the true story of the small silverplated pitcher (pictured above) that I found at an estate sale in Rochester, NY for $3. It was very pretty, but what caught my eye was the coat of arms symbol and the words "THE ANSONIA" that decorated the front. Again on the bottom, the words "The Ansonia" along with the name of the great American silver company, Reed & Barton. I quickly snatched it up.
I decided to do a little research about the Ansonia Hotel before listing the little pitcher on eBay. I knew that hotel silver sells well, but thought I could get a better price if I could find out a little history. Lo and behold, I not only found out wonderful information about the hotel, but could indirectly associate the pitcher with Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey...who both lived at the hotel and often dined together. If you look closely at this newspaper clipping, there is a small silver cream pitcher...just like mine...sitting on the corner of their breakfast table.
The Ansonia Hotel in New York city was a luxurious home to many famous people in the early 1900s. The residents had hotel staff at their beck and call for just about anything they desired, whether that be fresh towels or a midnight tea. Why maintain your own home and staff when the hotel could do it for you? They lived to serve you. Today, the Ansonia Hotel houses upscale condominiums..
When I listed my little pitcher it received immediate and commanding attention, with hundreds of watchers and dozens of active bidders, my little $3 pitcher sold for $93. Whoo-Hoo! And here is the happy ending to the story. The lady who bought the pitcher, currently lives in the Ansonia Hotel. The little hotel silver pitcher found it's way home after 80 years.
Categories of Hotel Silver
Hotel, Transportation and Military Silver
Hotel silver covers a diverse array of sub-categories. The basic umbrella concept is super-durable silverplate made for heavy-duty use in a commercial or institutional environment. Collectors tend to gravitate towards an area of interest in which the silver happens to fit into, thus creating the various categories you will find hotel silver in.
Hotel Silver - Used in the hospitality industry at fine hotels and inns. The name of the hotel was usually engraved on the item and famous hotels, such as the Ansonia or the Waldorf Astoria command the best prices.
Transportation Silver - A sub-category of hotel silver with devoted fans of all forms of transportation. Transportation silver comes from railroad lines, steamer ships, paddle-wheel steamers, as well as early air travel. Transportation silver is usually marked with the name of the company, and was used by first class passengers dining in style.
Military Silver - Used by officers in the military of all branches, but articles for the Navy are the most common.
Buying antiques on eBay can be a great experience if you keep a few rules in mind.
- Read the full description
- Pay attention to the details
- Ask the seller questions BEFORE you bid
Types of Items Made of Hotel Silver
Hotel Silver and Transportation Silver tend to be items used primarily for dining. Items can range from flatware (knives, forks and spoons) to halloware (serving pieces like bowls, trays and tea sets). These, along with fine china, let the first class guest or passenger dine with the elegance they were accustomed to.
The most common items you can find are flatware and small teapots for individual tea service at the table. More unusual are larger bowls, trays or full-sized tea sets.
For the train enthusiast, try to collect silver from your favorite train lines, or sections of the country. On eBay, use the "Favorite Search" tool to customize and save the searches you use most often. You can also set your preferences so that eBay sends you an email when the thing that you want has just been listed.
Collecting Hotel, Transportation and Military Silver
The first and most important rule of collecting is...
COLLECT WHAT YOU LOVE
Follow your heart when you buy an object you love and you will never be unhappy with it. Other than that, follow these few tips to get the best item for the price.
1 - Check condition. Item should be free of dents and deep scratches and the silver should be intact.
2 - Try to buy pieces marked with famous, quality makers like Reed & Barton, Gorham and International Silver.
3 - Highly decorative items, older items or items from very famous places or companies are worth more.
Polish it up and display it with pride in your home.
Take the quiz below to see what kind of hotel, transportation or military silver might interest you.
What Kind of Collector are YOU?
In this scenario, what kind of information would you get excited about. Do you love travel? History? Are you fascinated by machines, or feel pride in our country because of your own, service or someone else's? There are lots of reasons to collect hotel silver. Focus on the things you love and why you love them.
You pick up a little silver teapot at a yard sale and get REALLY excited, because...
Make sure to include the military branch you are interested in your eBay search. Most listings will not include the general term "military". Use instead the more specific terms, "Navy", "Army", or "Marines", etc...
Buying and Reselling Hotel, Transportation and Military Silver
Hotel silver is a niche of silver collecting with the potential for great profit...mostly because most people don't know what it is. I find hotel silver regularly at local estate sales and it is always marked VERY cheaply, as in the example of my little Ansonia Hotel cream pitcher. Yet, hotel silver has a group of very avid, dedicated collectors willing to spend big money to get one more piece in their collection. Here are my tips on buying and selling hotel silver.
The best places to find Hotel Silver are Garage Sales and Estate Sales. You can pick up items often for under $5, sometimes for under a dollar. Auctions and antique shops may have higher prices, since the knowledge base may be better.
- Estate Sales
- Garage Sales
- Antique Stores
If you are buying it for the purpose of reselling and making a profit, you have to be a lot more careful about what you buy and the price you pay for it. Here are a few tips for buying to resell hotel silver.
1 - Look for names of famous places clearly engraved on the item(s)
2 - Check the condition carefully. There should be no dents, dings, deep scratches or loss of silver.
3 - Look for names of famous makers, like Gorham, Reed & Barton, or International Silver
4 - Do a little research about the hotel or company the silver was made for BEFORE reselling. The history or association of an item to a famous person can make a HUGE difference in the price you realize when reselling.
- Ruby Lane
- Local Classified Ad
- Antique Shop
- Consignment Shop
By far, the best prices you will get for your hotel silver will be on eBay, or other online sites. The narrowness of this niche of silver collecting means that you have to cast your nets very wide to pull in potential buyers. eBay still remains the worlds largest garage sale, culling buyers from all over the world. Here's how I list my hotel silver.
TITLE: Include the name of the hotel or company in the title. Ex. Ansonia Hotel Silver Cream Pitcher possible Babe Ruth Connection
CATEGORY: List the item under "ANTIQUES/SILVER" and sub-category of what kind of item it is (flatware, teapot, etc...) The "COLLECTIBLES" category is also sometimes used. There are sub-categories there for both railroad and military items, but I find that silver sells best in the ANTIQUES category. People looking for silver go there.
PICTURES: Take lots of good, up-close pictures to help you potential buyer feel like they are looking at it in person.
DESCRIPTION: Do your homework. Find out whatever history you can about your item. Believe me, this really helps bring up the price when you know about your item and appear knowledgeable.
CONDITION: Fully describe all flaws. Give size and some buyers even ask for weight, since it is so heavily plated with silver.
PRICE: I always start my auctions at .99 cents. It encourages immediate bidding, which excites more bidding. Setting your starting price too high is a mark of death to any listing on eBay.
Collecting Antique Silver
Things you should know when collecting silver are...
- Names of good makers and their marks
- Historical eras and how they affected design and construction of silver items
- How to take care of antique silver
Do you have any? Do you collect silver of any kind? Tell us about your experiences or collections, or your results in the poll.