The origins of antique silver dates back to the 12th century in Europe, when silver was the most popular of all precious metals for ceremonial or personal ornaments. In the olden days, England produced more fine silver than any other country, but most of the antique silver manufactured were mainly used by religious institutions as architectural ornaments. As time passed, and trade with foreign countries was established, greater quantities of raw silver was brought into England, which spiked a great demand for silver, thereby increasing its value.
The use of silver was extended into making flatware, dishes, basins and drinking goblets, that graced the dining tables of royals and aristocrats then. Antique silver use was extended into making objects such as candelabras, coins, jewelry, trays, napkin rings, wine pitchers, letter openers, and hair brushes, to name a few. Today, antique silver has become collectors' items and can sell for fortunes.
Some say for any item to be considered as antique, it must be one hundred years or older. If this general theory is accepted, then antique silver can be said to be any solid silver item that its hallmark dates to1899 or earlier. Antique silver however, is not to be confused with silver plated. People must know the difference between silver plated items and antique silver if they are interested in becoming collectors. Also, all countries use different hallmarks so it important for collectors who buy from different countries to know the various markings peculiar to every nation.
To ensure the purchase of genuine silver antiques, a reputable dealer must be used. One way to determine if silverware is antique, is their intricate design which sets them apart from modern designs. Some of the designs of antique silver flatware are aptly named to coincide with the era they were made. Design names such as Rat-tail, Onslow, Old English, Celtic Point and Fiddle denotes that the flatware items were made in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Always ask questions if in doubt of an antique silver object's authenticity. Performing a breath test can also determine if there are faults on the item. A mist from breath can detect many things such as signs of aging, repair splits, and patches.
To further determine a genuine silver, look for the hallmarking. This was instituted hundreds of years back, to identify real silver pieces. Hallmarking antique silver came into effect in the year 1477, when a law was passed for all goldsmiths, who were then smithing silver to stamp the leopard's head or crowned leopard's head on all manufactured and acceptable pieces of silver.
Date Letter for Antique Silver
In 1479, the use of the date letter was first introduced. The year of manufacture was to be displayed by using a specific letter of the alphabet to mark silver objects in an outstanding lettering. The years following from then on saw silver pieces marked with a complete set of hallmarks of the leopard's head, the date letter and the manufacturer's identity. If the hallmark is missing on antique silver, a common reason might be that the item was made before hallmarking was instituted, or the hallmark is clogged with dirt. A wet orange stick can be used to clean the item to reveal the hallmark or manufacturer's name.
Another way to test for pure silver is with a tiny drop of diluted bleach. A cream color after contact with the bleach indicates pure silver. It can also be tested with acid, which yields a gray color if the item is genuine. If the item cannot be effectively determined as a genuine antique silver, it can always be appraised by a professional antique appraiser.
Why Buy Antique Silver?
Why purchase antique silver items? The simple answer is they can be very valuable. They also hold sentimental value because of their age and rarity. Antique silver has survived the time of life because of the era they were manufactured. Their age depicts that these objects have surpassed world events such as the world wars, and the great depression. This makes it a thrill for a collector to own an item that was made long before they were born.
Antique silver collectors should know the value of their collections because there is a wide market with buyers all around the world, and as such the price of silver has risen and continues to rise. Auction sales have records indicating antique silver wine coolers that sold for almost a million dollars, and a soup bowl that sold for about a hundred and fifty thousand dollars.
The appraiser determining the value of antique silver has to consider several important aspects. Factors such as weight, design, age and the manufacturer all contribute to the value of the item. Hallmarks are basically the cornerstone of appraisals since they provide a solid proof of when the object was made, and the quality of it. Just as the weight of gold determines its value, likewise, the same principle applies to the value of antique silver.
To preserve their quality, delicate care must be employed when cleaning antique silver. This precious metal is very soft and can be easily scratched. Therefore it is recommended that only soft cleaning cloths be used. Avoid the use of abrasive material and cleaners not intended for silver. If you are an avid collector, then it will be best to invest in cleaning items such as soft cloths, cotton wool, soft sponges, cotton buds, orange sticks, and the specific silver polish for cleaning the precious metal. Cleaned antique silver can be wrapped in tarnish-proof cloth and stored in a cabinet when it's not being used.
Collecting silver antique objects has become popular worldwide. Some collectors make choices based on style or age for financial investment. Others focus on collecting silver ornaments and flatware they can use in their homes on special occasions. Whatever the reason for antique silver collection - be it for investment purposes, or personal use, educate yourself about silver. Resource material is available to help make you a knowledgeable collector.