Identifying antique silver and gold patterns requires an eye for detail. A basic understanding of the hallmark system to identify precious metal content, originating country and date; makers marks used to identify silver and goldsmiths; and a magnifying lens to study the marks gets you started.
Because of the large number of makers' marks, most antiques dealers know that memorising each one is an impossible task. A collection of reference books, knowledge of the weight of place spoons, knives, forks and serving pieces of a certain maker helps to identify most patterns.
- Skill level:
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Things you need
- Jeweller loupe
- Hallmark and makers' mark resource books
- Jeweller scale
- Jeweller precious metal testing equipment
Study specimens of antique silver and gold patterns. Visit local antiques stores and auctions to view high-quality pieces. Use a loupe to study the flatware. Find most hallmarks on the back of the piece.
Gather additional information by studying online auctions, such as those on eBay. Most sellers of antique silver and gold flatware patterns provide close-ups of the hallmarks and/or makers' marks. Some beautiful artisan patterns, such as those made by small art deco silver- and goldsmiths, lack makers' marks. Very old pieces may not have marks.
Understand that counterfeit silver and gold flatware occasionally finds its way to the antiques dealer. Tactile knowledge of how antique silver feels often alerts the collector of fine silver and gold pieces that an item at hand is fake.
Antique precious flatware usually has some blemishes. Hand-carving and other artisan flourishes differ from machine-manufactured copies. Test precious metal content with jeweller testing equipment.
Knowing the weight of a certain piece, such as a place spoon, of a favourite maker also helps to identify them. Test weights with a jeweller scale and precious metal content with to confirm an authentic item.
Verifying hallmarks and makers marks usually requires reference books. Get to know the country hallmarks. Peruse 925-1000.com and other online resources to see close-up photos of hallmarks and makers marks from around the world.
Cleaning antique silver helps to uncover its origin and beauty. Darkened, discoloured precious metal flatware often have flourishes and marks hiding beneath tarnish and dirt. While antique jewellery collectors may appreciate the "bloom" of old metals, antique silver and gold flatware pieces should be shiny and clean.
Steve Nelson of Nelson & Nelson Antiques in New York said, "There is a satisfaction in taking a dirty family heirloom and making it sparkle. It's amazing the difference in the look of your silver when properly shined. In general I suggest using a non-abrasive paste cleaner and a cloth. We use Wrights silver cleaner. In the store we use Hagerty silver gloves and their spray polish to touch up our items when they sell."
Tips and warnings
- Antique silver and gold flatware patterns add flair to fine dining at home.
- Use antique silver and gold flatware often.
- Prices of precious metals are rising as of 2010. Purchase antique silver and gold flatware from reputable sellers.
- Discuss appropriate insurance of precious silver and gold antiques with your financial adviser.
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- "All About Antique Silver with International Hallmarks"; Diana Cinnamon; 2006
- "English Silver Hall-Marks. Including the Marks..."; Judith Bannister; 2004
- Warman's Sterling Silver Flatware: Value & Identification..."; Phil Dreis; 2009
- "The Book of Old Silver: English * American * Foreign"; Wyler; updated 2007
- "Jackson's Hallmarks: Silver and Gold Marks..."; Ian Pickford; 2007