When I was growing up we didn’t have a lot of posh things and certainly nothing that was sterling silver. But later, when I was an adult and finally had a few spare shekels to rub together, I would inevitably buy something old and sterling silver. Charm bracelets and souvenir spoons were a fav.
Nowadays, though I am not actively collecting anything, I still look for quality sterling bits to buy for my store. Typically I buy undervalued pieces from other online sellers, but occasionally from antique stores, thrift stores and yard sales too.
Pieces may be undervalued because the seller:
- doesn’t know what he/she is selling
- believes the piece is undesirable or out of vogue
- hasn’t researched its true market value
- wants to make a quick sale.
For example, last year I found this little gavel in the metalware aisle at my local Goodwill. I picked it up and nearly gasped. This solid piece was hallmarked for British sterling silver, but to the pricing staff the marks on the handle meant nothing and it was priced at $3.77! Turns out it was made by Solomon Joel Phillips, dated 1994, assayed in London and weighed 58.4 grams. I sold it for $135.
What I Look for in Silver Items
I have a checklist of factors when I’m sourcing for silver–quality/craftsmanship, condition, maker, hallmarks, age, weight, desirability–that ultimately ends in price! Each factor plays a part.
For example, I saw this sterling silver implement in a Gettysburg, PA, antique store. It was beautifully crafted, in good condition (only lightly scratched from use), made by James R Armiger Co. (1892-1936), marked sterling, had a solid weight (79 grams) and was engraved for 1905. My only concern was that it was a tomato server!! One of those Victorian/Edwardian fine dining pieces never used today. Was there even a market for this? But it was priced at $30 (I got it for slightly less) and I felt it was undervalued. Definitely worth a gamble. It sold in my shop for $100.
Another example, this vintage luggage tag was on auction at eBay, starting at $9.99 with $6.50 shipping. It was marked sterling, had no maker’s mark, was in good condition (just light scratches), had nice details and its original leather holder, and was a hefty 28 grams. I knew if I could win this for $25 or less, there was still money in it. I got it for $17.75 total and I sold it for $60 plus shipping in my store.
Some folks believe items that have been monogramed or engraved with personal information are less desirable. I personally think for single, unique items engraving can add value. In fact I have items I bought specifically because of their engravings, like this tiny bowl engraved “Alexander Walker, 5th February 1894, From Grand Uncle Izat.” Isn’t that intriguing!
But for a large set of sterling silver flatware or similar, a monogram on each piece may make it a tougher sale.
Now here’s an item that I bought almost solely on price! I found this candy dish at a yard sale. It’s not super old, has a number of small imperfections and is weighted with cement. I rarely buy weighted pieces. But it is marked sterling and has a maker’s mark of RB (was hoping it was Reed & Barton but it doesn’t match any of their marks), is rather charming and was only…$2! For $2 I was willing to buy this. It’s currently on sale in my store.
A few weeks ago I bought this RM Trush rocking horse Christmas ornament/pendant. It’s marked sterling and 1973. Trush ornaments are made by Cazenovia Abroad–a company founded in 1967 and still operated by the family in upstate New York. New this ornament sells for $159. Used it has sold in the last 12 months for $25-$125. I won it for $36.66 total and have listed it for $74.99. Not a huge profit, but enough to make it worthwhile, and it’s a small item to store and ship. 🙂
First, know what you’re buying (and selling). The more information you can get about an item, the easier it will be to make your decision to buy and the more appropriately you can price and market it when you sell it. I’m always surprised when I buy a British or Scottish piece of silver with full hallmarks and the seller had just listed the item as “antique silver bowl” without doing any research and giving any of the details.
Here are a couple of sites I use all the time:
Second, know what similar items have sold for. I use Worthpoint (a subscription service) to look up similar sold items but you can also look up sold items on eBay for free.
Third, know the current prices of similar items. I typically check Etsy, eBay and Rubylane.
Caveat: Pricing research is a bit anecdotal as vintage and antique marketplace prices and trends are ever shifting. What sold for $120 one year ago may not today…or may be worth more.
Vintage/Antique Sterling Silver Things with Strong Value and Appeal
Not sure what to look for? Here are a few ideas:
- napkin rings
- luggage tags
- small pincushions (particularly pigs and chickens)
- bowls (always usable)
- chatelaines (whole or parts from)
- stamp boxes
- English fruit knives
- elaborate grape scissors
- unique charms
- cigarette cases
- unique vesta cases
- cups with military inscriptions
- baby cups
- Art Nouveau jewelry
Certainly the internet has leveled the playing field in the vintage/antiques world and bargains are tougher to find, but not impossible.
As always…happy hunting. Would love to hear your silver story!