What is Antique Silverware?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2019
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Antique silverware is silverware which was produced in a prior era. The precise definition of an “antique” varies, with some people simply referring to anything old as an antique, and others specifying that an antique must be at least 50 to 100 years old, with newer items being considered “vintage” if they are not of totally modern construction. Like other antiques, antique silverware can be quite valuable if it is in good condition and if it represents a rare, unusual, or distinctive pattern.

Some families pass down their silverware from generation to generation. This antique silverware is usually designated for use at formal events only, as the family's “fine silver,” differentiating between the formal and everyday silver. Depending on the family history, this antique silver can easily be over 100 years old, and it is traditionally passed from the mother to the oldest daughter, as silver is deemed an important item to have when setting up a household.

Like other antiques, the value of antique silverware varies. Condition is an important factor when assessing value; silverware which is pitted, tarnished, or damaged will be less valuable. Completeness of the set is also key, with large sets generally being more valuable, especially if they include service accessories like ladles, cake knives, and so forth. Some antique silverware may be alloyed with toxic metals like lead, but this does not usually reduce its value.


The period in which antique silverware was produced can also be important. Any pieces produced prior to 1830 will tend to be more valuable, since 1830 marks the dividing point between artisan and mass production. If a silverware set dates from the 1770s, for example, it means that each piece was made by hand in a workshop, while an 1840s set may have been mass produced in a factory, which makes it less valuable.

Antique silverware from certain eras may be more valuable. American silverware from the 1860s may be considered special because it is from the Civil War era, for example, as will silverware produced during the Arts and Crafts era at the beginning of the 20th century. Patterns also play a role in silverware valuation, with beautiful, rare, or unusual patterns being more desirable, while relatively plain antique silverware may not draw very much attention unless it has a unique provenance.

For people who are fortunate enough to have antique silverware passed down as a family heirloom, that silver should be guarded carefully. Obtaining a valuation from an appraiser and insuring it may be advisable as well. People who wish to buy antique silverware should work with reputable dealers, and they may want to consider using the services of an expert or appraiser to ensure that they are not cheated by unscrupulous antique dealers.


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does polishing old silverware affect value?

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