What to do with Grandma's silver?
Somehow my wife and I ended up with my grandmother's silverware. That seemed a bit odd to me at the time because I have two sisters and there was also her daughter's children who could have received it.
It might have been because she had first given it to her son, my father. My mother used that silver for special family dinners - Thanksgiving and Christmas. When my wife and I took over those get togethers, it was natural to pass the silver to us and we have had it ever since.
Well, sort of. We actually passed it on to one of our daughters, but she keeps giving it back to us when she goes on vacations, so at any given time it could be still with us or not.
A bit of an annoyance
We don't use it for special dinners any more. Those dinners have been mostly taken over by our daughters and the tradition of using that silver has fallen away. Silverware is a bit annoying, anyway: it's beautiful, but it tarnishes and needs polishing. Too much trouble and often not enough settings for the dinners anyway.
The high price of silver as a metal makes it annoying in another way. None of us really like having it around, because we are afraid of theft. At the current price of silver, there is a fair amount of money sitting in that box. That's why it gets shuffled around.
Amusingly, for quite a few years, my wife and I actually thought it had been stolen - it turned out that we had simply misplaced it. Given the size of the box it is in, that seems hard to understand, but we actually had two silver boxes, one of which had plate in it. It was that box we misplaced or lost, so we actually were seeing the real silver for years - we simply thought it was the plate. One day I looked inside and was quite surprised to find Grandma's silver still safely in our possession.
If I didn't have such a strong emotional bond with my grandmother, we might have sold it off ourselves years ago. I find that thought really impossible to imagine, but I suppose someday that is exactly what will happen to it. Not by me, though.
For the genealogy folks:
Helen Drake McDewell, my father's mother, (1889 Boston – 1984) m. 16 Sep 1911 Beardsley Lawrence(1887 New Jersey – 1953)
Frederick R. S. McDewell, her father (1863 Boston – 1939) m. 11 Sep 1888 Adelaide Isabelle Crowell (1857 Massachusetts – 1933)
Most of that silverware is engraved "McD" (for McDewell), so it actually was my grandmother's parents silver. The pattern dates on some of it is 1892 and the rest is 1905, so they must have bought it after those dates. They (her parents) were married in 1888 and my grandmother was born in 1889 and married herself by 1911, so plainly they bought some of it not long before their daughter started her own family. I do not know when they gave it to her.
Some of it is older, though, and not engraved. For example, the unidentified piece below is part of it. I'm told this is probably early American "coin silver" - that is, .800 fine (80% silver). The two six pointed stars surrounding an eagle are referred to as "pseudo marks" because no official authority guaranteed the assay. I've posted that picture at several boards and also emailed it to a few dealers, but so far no one has been able to tell me anything more about it. I wish I had thought to ask my grandmother while she was still alive, but it may be too old for her to have known its provenance.
That's not unusual with older, unsanctioned pieces. This may never be identified - even if someone else has a piece with similar markings where the origin is known, there is nothing to say that someone else didn't just copy the markings.
Antique Silverware is mostly just bullion
Aside from possibly that unidentified piece, this silverware is probably not worth much other than as bullion.
That is, although these patterns are quite old and very beautiful, they are mostly sold strictly at silver value today - sometimes even less, especially for knives which may have handles weighted with base metal - the extra processing required to melt these drives the price down.
Depending upon what you think will happen with the price of silver in the years to come, that could mean that investing in real silver tableware is an excellent investment. If much of this is actually being melted, that could increase the antique value greatly later.
Though if you think the price of silver bullion has been driven artificially high by speculators, the antique and collectible value may never reach what the bullion value is today, so this might be a very bad time to buy this sort of thing.
I've asked quite a few people about that: dealers and collectors both. Nobody knows. Most will say that if you want to own real silver place settings, just buy it, because they have no clear idea what the future will hold.
It bothers me that family heirlooms may end up discarded, lost or sold. It looks like our children will not have children of their own, so I've been looking to cousins to find a home for some of these things. We've already given some of it to our children, but I have suggested to them that they might look to their cousins for a more final disposition.
I realize that controlling the future is impossible. At some point, everything will be lost, stolen, thrown away, accidentally destroyed or sold. I can't control that, but I feel an obligation to steward as much of this as I can in the best way I can, and carefully choosing who will get what is part of that. I can only hope that they feel the same obligation.
This web page may long outlive me. I hope that it does, and I hope that whoever does end up with this silverware might someday find these words and perhaps learn a bit more about its origins and history.