When it comes to antique silver the first step anyone needs to take, whether appraising or valuing, it is to clean it. It may sound strange at first, however a clean piece of antique silver opens a wealth of information about the object and makes appraisal much more straight forward.
Once cleaned, begin to look for hallmarks or stamps; hallmarks can be found on the reverse of cutlery or the base of candlesticks and salvers. Hallmarks are essential, not only for appraising silver, but for selling too - a silver item cannot be sold unless it has hallmarks, or correct ones for that matter.
The first mark you will nearly always see first is the makers’ mark, which is displayed as the maker’s initials, such as ‘P.S’ for Paul Storr. Next you will see a mark for the fineness, usually ‘925’ for Sterling Silver or a Lion Passant which also denotes 925 purity. On some pieces you will see hallmark of Britannia, which indicates a higher 958 ‘Britannia’ purity.
Following on you will see a hallmark for the location where the object was assayed or stamped. Typical English examples include a leopard’s head for London, or an Anchor for Birmingham. Lastly you will see a hallmark with a letter, these are differentiated by typeface, lower case, or capital, and even punch shape. Our current year, 2020, is sequenced by a lower case ‘V’, in a quadrilateral hallmark with canted corners.
The book “Jackson’s Hallmarks: A Guide to English, Scottish, Irish Silver & Gold Hallamrks” is an invaluable tool in the silver appraiser’s quiver. When discussing antique silver, the Five W’s come to mind: Who, What, Where, When, and Why.
The last is as important as the first four, as inscriptions or heraldry on a silver object can give more clues about the item and its provenance. Whilst most pieces have a scrap value, recognising key dates or highly sought-after makers, as well as strong provenance, can very well increase the value.
Knowing where to take your silver to be appraised is equally important. Local auctioneers provide independent appraisals as well as dealers, who possess a fountain of knowledge about antique silver. To learn more about pawning your silver, you can follow our guide here for more information.