Though silver plate trays are worth less than sterling-silver equivalents, many older specimens can reach high sale prices. Some trays are more than 100 years old, meaning they're officially classified as antiques (silver plate trays date as far back as the mid-18th century). Determine the value of your silver plate trays by looking for several important clues to their potential worth.
Condition plays a big part in silver tray valuation. Worn areas of plating where the base metal shows through immediately lower the sale price. This might take the form of green or reddish tinting---signs of oxidisation of the underlying copper or nickel. Solder repairs to tray handles will also devalue the item. Other problems to look out for include splits to the rim, scratches, dents and tears. The tray should also be sturdy and firm.
Origin and Date
Old Sheffield Plate tends to be the most valuable type of silver plate tray. Old Sheffield is a form of silver on copper that dates back to the mid-18th century and spans up to the 1840s. Silver hallmark guides list Sheffield Plate maker's marks and dates. Matthew Boulton is an example of a sought-after maker's name from that period. Beware of anything stamped "silver on copper," as this is a modern imitation of Old Sheffield Plate. Items from the late 19th century and the 20th century are likely to be made of electroplated nickel. These usually command lower prices than Old Sheffield.
Size and Style
Overly large trays often sell for less. This is because modern houses are smaller than the grand old mansions that many trays originated from. Trays with simple decorative borders are more popular (as of 2010) than overly patterned rims and bases. However, plain surfaces do show scratches more. Some art deco- or art nouveau-style trays are relatively high in value due to the popularity of those styles.
Provenance means to verify the origin of an item. Silver plate trays often have a crest or coat of arms engraved in the centre---this may relate to a famous family or historical figure. Some trays have been handed down from a royal lineage, for example. If the tray has accompanying documentation, such as a legal will or related letters, this may prove it's genuine, which can increase its value.
Old Sheffield Plate has either a symbol that indicates the maker's mark or initials for the maker. Bradbury's Book of Hallmarks and the 925-1000 website are good sources for checking hallmarks. "EPNS" stands for electroplated nickel silver, which means the piece is post-1840s. The same applies to "EPBM," which refers to electroplated base metal. In both cases the value is likely to be lower than Old Sheffield Plate.