How to collect silver | Part 1 The Essentials

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A few weeks ago, regular reader Bev asked me ‘Sometime in your writings, perhaps you could offer direction in prioritizing pattern, maker, weight and age. Aside from collecting/using what one loves, which of those criteria do you suggest be emphasized?’  The question of how to collect silver is a slightly daunting one.  The topic is both massive and highly subjective.  However I’ll give it my best shot and write less than a PhD thesis.

Hmmm, I’ve just come back to read the opening paragraph after writing for quite some time and I’m going to have to split this post into parts…it is in danger of becoming a lengthy academic text.

how to collect silver - Chawner spoon reverse

This Georgian spoon is a perfect example of the back being as beautiful as the front. Look at the shells on the handle’s terminal and heel of the bowl. Every angle the spoon might be examined from was considered in it’s design and execution.

How to collect silver

The factors listed below are the keys to a good collection.  In order of importance, these are the two factors I rank as most important in how to collect silver.

Quality, quality, quality   When thinking about how to collect silver, always purchase the highest quality piece you can.  And by quality I mean the design and construction of the piece.  Carefully examine how it is made.  Are joins and seams fitted perfectly?  If there is a solder seam is it cleanly done, or is it a large, rough obvious welding job?

I say it time and time again, but the back (or underside or inside) is just as important as the front. Is the reverse side finished as beautifully as the front? Is the inside smooth and cleanly finished.  High quality pieces are well-finished from every angle, not just the obvious ones.

Unless you are a specialist of some type and whatever it is that you are looking at is the very last thing you need to complete your collection and you’ll never forgive yourself if you pass it up, quality is the factor that trumps every other consideration.  Don’t buy it just because it is a well-known name, or it’s the only one of it’s kind, or because it’s in your price range.

Making wise decisions and collecting high quality examples of what you love is the way to go. There is lots of high quality silver out there, at all sorts of price points…so too, there is lots of inferior stuff, also at all price points.

Condition – If all other factors are relatively equal buy the piece that is in better condition.  However, let’s think about factors that contribute to condition.

Tarnish – unless you really know what you are looking at beware of highly tarnished pieces.  The black coating can hide a multitude of problems inclusing pitting and bad scratches.  Don’t let people tell you a tarnished piece has nice patina!  They are not the same thing.  Patina is the soft grey sheen on silver that develops are as piece is used and cared for.  Patina does not hide the color of the metal.  Tarnish does.

The shine factor – Don’t expect every piece of antique and vintage silver to look like it just came out of the box.  In fact be extremely cautious about why a Georgian piece looks mirror shiny!!  Too many sellers machine-buff to get their silver to a blinding bright finish.  While the novice collector is taken in by the bling factor, the experienced collector knows that machine buffing strips away all the patina a piece has collected over it’s life.  Stripping patina is akin to taking the luster off a pearl.

Beyond stripping patina, machine-buffing to a cosmetically-mint-shiny-bright-finish also strips off a lot of the silver.  Silver has a living finish.  It is meant to change and darken over time.  To get back to the flawless just-out-of-the-factory shine take a lot of silver away. It also does the incredible disservice of confusing people about what well-cared for antique and vintage silver looks like.

A thorough hand-polish removes tarnish and brings out the shine.  Unless the piece has literally never been used, and yes there are some of those around, it will never look like it’s just been made.  And you don’t want it too.  If you did, you’d be buying new silver!

For the record, as I suspect you’ve figured out, I do not machine buff the silver I sell.

Bumps and bruises – Remember, many of these pieces are hundreds of years old.  Small bumps and bruises are to be expected, and are perfectly normal.  Think of them as laugh lines, they are part of the story the silver has to tell. Of course the dealer must disclose any dings or damage.  Don’t get too concerned about small dings, as long the functionality of the piece or it’s artistic beauty is not significantly affected.

Damage – Unfortunately, outright damage does occur.  Pieces are dropped or knocked over and might necessitate repair. You need to be aware of it so you can make an informed decision.  Personally, repairs do not automatically put me off, especially when they were skillfully done on very old pieces.  It’s just another factor that is part of my decision-making process.


For my money, those 2 factors are the most important criteria to consider when thinking about how to collect silver.  I will address the criteria actually mentioned by Bev in next week’s post as they play a supporting role in how to collect silver.


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