Buying antique or vintage silver? 5 Steps to make sure you really are.

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Silverplate Fork

All that glitters is not sterling silver. Silver marks and other information is vital.

How many times have you bought a piece of antique or vintage silver, only to find out it isn’t?

These 5 steps will save you a lot of aggravation.

Follow them and you will have your own antique silver purchase disaster prevention plan.

1. Photographs

A photo is only worth a thousand words when it conveys information you need.

  • Are the photos clear? Soft focus is good for fine art photography. Not for shopping.
  • Which photos?
coin silver spoon, full countour photo

A full, clear view of the entire front of the spoon.

coin silver spoon, full reverse contour

A full, clear image of the entire back of the spoon.

coin silver spoons, groups shot

A clear, unambiguous group shot.

coin silver, monogram

A close-up photo of decorative elements. In this case the monogram.

Coin silver spoons, dings to bowls

The bowls of these two spoons have minor age appropriate dings. It’s nothing to get concerned about unless you don’t know about it! Good photos and full disclosure allow the customer to make an informed decision.

coin silver spoon, makers marks, clear photo, rubbed marks

If ever there was a money shot, the one showing the silver marks is it. This photo clearly shows a full set of marks. Everything is in focus, so you can also see that some of the marks are rubbed or worn. This is age appropriate, but something to know about.

coin silver spoon, makers mark, poor photo

Compare with this photo. The mark is ever so slightly out of focus and the angle at which the photo was taken makes it much more difficult to read.

coin silver spoons

An attractive glamor shot is there to pique your interest but conveys only a very limited amount of information.

Many times dealers are only able to post 4 or 5 photos. Each of these points does not need to be in it’s own photo, but ALL of these points must be addressed by the photos that are there.

2. Sizes

The sizes must be clearly stated. Photos do not convey all the information you need. Sizes, written in inches and/or centimeters, are vital.  If the pattern you are hunting has luncheon and dinner forks you need know which is which.

3. Cleaned and polished

The silver must be clean and polished. Tarnish (the black coating silver acquires through lack of use) can hide serious problems like pitting and corrosion. Tarnish can also obscure silver marks.

Do not confuse tarnish with patina.  Patina is the lovely soft – almost dove grey – sheen well-cared for silver has. All the photos in the world don’t help you if the silver is tarnished.

For further information read – Patina, or why does this spoon look used.

4. Return policy

Is there a return policy? This is a biggie, because there is no substitute for touching and seeing in person. We’ve all had it happen, something looks wonderful…until you get it home, and then it is not quite right.

My best customers are repeat customers. (Every businesses best customers are repeat customers!) My photos are clear. Each one conveys a specific piece of information. Sizes are clearly stated. Everything is clean and polished. My customers have a very clear understanding of what they are buying when they press “Buy Now”.

Sometimes it just doesn’t work out. Why would I punish my customer? Why would I punish my business by not taking them back if they just aren’t quite right?

Silver Magpies has clear shop policies, including a return policy. Items can be returned no questions asked. I do require you to let me know – so I am on the lookout for the package. I also require the item begins its return voyage to me within 3 business days. This allows me to get your money back to you quickly and for me to get the piece back on the market as soon as possible.

The only exception is for items you have damaged. If you get it home, unwrap it and put it somewhere it can get squashed, I’m terribly sorry but I can’t help. If it arrives at your house and the parcel carrier service has squashed it flat, no problem. Every item is insured – contact me asap. Take lots of photos of the packaging and item and I’ll get the insurance claim in the works immediately.

5. Silver Marks – Educate yourself

To this point avoiding an unhappy experience has relied on you picking the right dealer to make a purchase from. Here comes the other part of the puzzle.

You must have some basic knowledge of what you are buying. Even if the dealer has done all of the things above, it can still go horribly wrong. My case in point are the spoons in the photos above, particularly the hallmarks/silver marks photo.

Arm yourself with a basic knowledge of silver marks. They are very tricky. I know at a glance that the spoons above are reverse fiddle, American coin silver, made prior to 1906, with a pseudo-English hallmark.

Do you? Are you going to be lulled into thinking that because they have a few marks in a row like little hieroglyphics that they are antique English silver? The Fabulous Fork explains a few simple things to look out for to minimize your risk.

Why the steps above?

Many, many people sell silver. I want you to buy your silver from me. I want repeat customers and long-term relationships so, I minimize your risk in any transaction. I’m building trust.

But whether you do or don’t buy from me, please take the steps above seriously.

It’s really awful when I have to tell a client that the non-returnable & expensive set of sterling X’s made in X during the XXXX’s are actually silverplate from c. 1960.


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I love your comments! Anyone bought a piece of silver that wasn’t?

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2 thoughts on “Buying antique or vintage silver? 5 Steps to make sure you really are.

  1. IvetteNo Gravatar

    Very interesting. I, of course, am lucky to have you and therefore don’t worry about it. I just trust you to make sure what I’m buying (whether from your or eBay or whomever) is what it should be.

    The best part of shopping with you is the education. It’s this close to equal with the beauty of your pieces. But I must give the win to the education factor, because it is unselfish, benefits me the customer entirely, and is invaluable when you’re not there. Which I hope, is never often.

  2. SilverMagpiesNo Gravatar Post author

    Hi Ivette –

    Thanks for your kind words. I really hope the education is beneficial for everyone who reads this website, regardless of whom they buy from. The most important thing is that you love it and understand what it is.

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