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What to do with Grandma's silver?

Updated on December 4, 2012
Pcunix profile image

I was born in 1948 and spent most of my career as a self-employed computer trouble shooter for Unix systems.

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)

The McDewells

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.

Possibly early American "coin silver".  The pseudo mark is an eagle between two six pointed starts.
Possibly early American "coin silver". The pseudo mark is an eagle between two six pointed starts.

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.

Family Heirlooms

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.


Submit a Comment
  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 

    2 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Oh, how well I can relate! As an only child, I have ALL of my parent's "stuff," yes, including the silverware from both sides of the family! Though they have been gone 20+ years, I still struggle with the final disposition of it all. It is only after all these years that I have finally gained enough emotional distance to part with some of it.

    My kids don't want much of it, and probably not the grandkids, either. The two old enough to care are boys, and I don't think they have the same sense of family history; the two girls are not yet old enough to give a hoot--one being in high school, the other in elementary school.

    In fact, I'm going to get some jewelry pieces appraised, as I'm not much of a jewelry wearer, and the styles aren't what my kids like, so that will get sold off.


  • Pcunix profile imageAUTHOR

    Tony Lawrence 

    5 years ago from SE MA

    They wouldn't have that. I'm not talking about the main pattern - I'm talking about the very old single piece.

  • Glenn Stok profile image

    Glenn Stok 

    5 years ago from Long Island, NY

    Did you try sending pictures to replacements . com ? They may even buy them from you.

  • Pcunix profile imageAUTHOR

    Tony Lawrence 

    5 years ago from SE MA

    Yes, I emailed pictures to dealers and posted on websites. Nobody knows.

  • Glenn Stok profile image

    Glenn Stok 

    5 years ago from Long Island, NY

    It's interesting to try to discover the origins of vintage keepsakes. It's sad that you can't ask your grandparents anymore. I wonder if some dealer might be able to identify the markings, but I am sure you went that route. Anyway, this was an interesting family story.

  • GmaGoldie profile image

    Kelly Kline Burnett 

    7 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

    My Mother in law just polished the silver. We do use it albeit I would never invest in it. I love the history but oh, the maintenance. My high end Christophe stainless is my favorite but alas it is family tradition. Love this post.

    I enjoy when you share your humanity and family items. I especially loved your comment about waking your wife up with the smell of coffee. What a great guy you are!

  • Pcunix profile imageAUTHOR

    Tony Lawrence 

    7 years ago from SE MA

    It is astonishing, isn't it?

  • Angie Jardine profile image

    Angie Jardine 

    7 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

    In the UK we have a TV programme called 'Flog it!' which is all about selling your extraneous items at auction. Usually these are collectibles and antiques, often bought at car boot sales (garage/yard sales over there) for a few pence. They often make hundreds of pounds.

    What I find amazing is the fact that many people sell their family heirlooms for a few tens of pounds! Often it is silver stuff they can't be bothered to polish or to quote the much used phrase 'it's just sitting in a drawer and we never look at it'. Now, I'm no hoarder but it just seems plain wrong to me to discard your family heritage for the price of a meal or to put towards a holiday.

    I use what has been handed down - and the rest is in a heritage box complete with what is known about things - family stories if you like. They'll go to my kids and they can do what they like with them ...

  • Pcunix profile imageAUTHOR

    Tony Lawrence 

    7 years ago from SE MA

    Good points..

  • profile image


    7 years ago

    I agree with phdast, if you use your silver, it will develop a nice patina that doesn't need to be polished. I'm not really one to talk since I also have silver items I never use, just taking up space in boxes.

  • phdast7 profile image

    Theresa Ast 

    7 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

    Good Hub. Of course you know this, but if you use good silver it doesn't tarnish or have to be polished. I kept my grandmother's silver in the case for years and years and used an inexpensive set of stainless everyday.

    Then I turned 50 and thought, what am I saving it for? So, my grandmother's silver is in my kitchen and I use it everyday. I still have the stainless and if we have a crowd over or a BBQ outside, I bring it out.

    Of course doing this depends on whether you like the pattern or not. It is such a shame for beautiful things, even family things with memories attached to sit for years in a box.

    If you don't care for the pattern that much and don't want to use it, select a seving piece or two to keep in memeory of your loved one. Then find someone in the family who likes the pattern and will use the silver on a daily, or at least weekly, basis.

    If not a relative, I would even give it to a friend before I would let it sit in a box for 10-20 years. Just a thought. :)

  • Kris Heeter profile image

    Kris Heeter 

    7 years ago from Indiana

    I inherited my grandmother's silver teapot set. I must have "oohed and ahhhed" over it as a child. Polishing silver is not my thing so sadly it sits in a box all tarnished. Maybe I'll have to pass it down to a niece... great hub!

  • Pcunix profile imageAUTHOR

    Tony Lawrence 

    7 years ago from SE MA

    One nice thing about silver is that you could parcel it out to multiple recipients, which might actually increase the chance of some of it being preserved. Good idea, Stephanie!

  • Stephanie Henkel profile image

    Stephanie Henkel 

    7 years ago from USA

    Having family heirlooms can be both an honor and a pain, especially when you don't use them or have a place to display them. It seems that having the family silver is even a bigger responsibility! Can you have some pieces treated with a non-tarnishing coating and have them mounted and framed to display? Then give away the rest! Easy for me to say...I have a hard time parting with heirlooms that have sentimental value.

  • profile image

    Sophia Angelique 

    7 years ago

    I've packed it all away for my daughter... but I also gave most of it to my sister when I left South Africa. She has packed it away for my daughter...

  • Pcunix profile imageAUTHOR

    Tony Lawrence 

    7 years ago from SE MA

    Arranged marriage is probably out, but perhaps you can do it subliminally - hang pictures of handsome men with appropriate last names all around the house?

  • SmartAndFun profile image


    7 years ago from Texas

    I have my grandmother's silver, which we never use. It is monogrammed like yours is, with a letter that has never been any part of my own initials. My daughter is only 13, but I figure if I start now, I can manipulate her lovelife so she'll marry someone who's last name starts with an "H!" Wish me luck! Seriously, though, it is kinda cool to have that "H" on the silver because it reminds me of that side of my heritage.

  • Just Ask Susan profile image

    Susan Zutautas 

    7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

    I have my mothers silver which was given to me when I was 18. I treasure it as I lost my mother when I was 3. I have used it a few times but mainly it sits in the bottom of my china cabinet. When I do think now about using it I don't because it is such a pain to clean.


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