Antique Silver & Vintage Silver – What is the definition?

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antique silver spoon

"Antique silver spoon" - What does that really mean?

The dividing line between “antique” and “vintage” is a difficult one to draw clearly. Across the spectrum of the antiques trade it varies from product to product – cars are considered antiques at 45 years old.

Silver should not!

So let’s concentrate on silver. What is the definition of antique silver? What is the definition of vintage silver? The problem is that there isn’t a single standard or regulation defining these terms.  Many times things that are considered antique in the US are not in the UK. Often times it comes down to the dealer’s personal definition.

Steps you can take

Let’s say you are browsing some items and a piece labelled “antique silver spoon” strikes your fancy.  What should you do?

Ask!

While it is not always possible to pin down an exact date, any reputable dealer will be able to provide you with a range of dates. George III, 1890-1910, post WWII, that kind of thing.

As we’ve discussed before, even with patterns that were produced over a long period of time – the pieces may look identical but newer pieces tend to be lighter than older ones.

Don’t be afraid to engage!

Ask the dealer what they consider the dividing line to be? Is it 100 years, the Vietnam War?  It doesn’t matter what it is – you need to have a fixed reference point. Any reputable dealer should be delighted to speak with you about it in more detail.

Questions do not obligate you in any way!

The purchase of antique silver or vintage silver represents a transaction of great trust. Most people are not experts and they have to take a dealer’s word that a piece is what they say it is. Exercise your judgement.

How does Silver Magpies deal with this issue?

My personal dividing lines are:

  • antique = definitely 1899 or older
  • vintage = 1900-1945
  • modern = 1945-today

Whenever possible  I date items as precisely as possible. Sometimes a piece is obviously and definitely antique or vintage even though the exact date eludes you.

antique English sterling silver wine funnel

A partial set of hallmarks, but even these can help with dating.

For example I have a Georgian Wine Funnel that has become separated from it’s stainer.  The full set of hallmarks are on the strainer.  The funnel only has a partial set.

So how do I know it’s an antique Georgian wine funnel? Well, even the partial set of marks impart a great deal of information.  That in conjunction with the style, decoration, and construction of the pieces – which is totally consistent with wine funnels of the same era – make me confident that it is a George III piece.

At other times the exact date can’t be established – especially with American pieces – and you have to fall back on the broader labels.

In cases where I know the object was made sometime around the turn of the century, but I’m not sure which side (very important as it’s my dividing line) I err on the side of caution and label it vintage.

PS

But ask me a question and I’ll be delighted to explain it in as much detail as you like 🙂

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2 thoughts on “Antique Silver & Vintage Silver – What is the definition?

  1. Jackie BernardiNo Gravatar

    Hi Nancy,

    Really interesting information. I am wondering why 1945 was the dividing line for vintage/modern, was it simply a matter of elapsed time? Or was it historically related?

    1. SilverMagpiesNo Gravatar Post author

      Hi Jackie –

      That’s a great question. Until recently I had been considering anything 20th century as vintage, because frankly I didn’t know very much about the post WWII silversmiths, and I didn’t deal in silver younger than the late 1950’s.

      But two things have happened to cause me to re-evaluate.

      1) As my interest a few of the American smiths of of the 1950’s has grown – in particular Edwardo San Giovanni and my personal favorite Alfredo Sciarrotta – to me they represent a new era in the history of silver and deserve a designation of their own.

      2) My customers told me they needed another division to act as a reference point.

      It so happens that WWII represents a convenient (if arbitrary) division point. “Post war” is a reference point that most of us get – although am I dating myself by assuming that!!

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