Engraved Silver | The Date isn’t Carved in Stone

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Just because a piece of silver is engraved with a date, don’t assume the date is an accurate reflection of when the bowl was actually made.  Engraved silver doesn’t always provide the (convenient) literal truth. Engraved silver can be older or younger than the inscribed date.

Engraved silver - anniversary dishes

These small silver dessert dishes are engraved 1893 C 1918 and likely celebrate a 25th anniversary of some kind. However, I can’t depend on either of those dates to pin down precisely the date of manufacture.

Engraved silver | Older piece, newer date

Why would older pieces have newer dates?  My educated guess is that it has to do with patterns of consumer consumption.  Although as I’ve written about many times before, the industrial revolution brought about an expanding middle class with some money to burn, this didn’t mean they made new purchases at the drop of a hat like we do today.  An older piece already at home might be engraved with a date to celebrate an event within the family, such as a new child or a wedding.

Succeeding generations can also opt to remove older engraving and replace it with something that suits their needs. Engraving can be added (and removed, as discussed in Monogram Removals) at any time.

Another possible scenario is that a piece might have sat unsold in a shop for a few years.  Silverware has always been relatively expensive…it doesn’t always fly off the shelves.

Engraved silver | Newer piece, older date

As for engraved silver that is the other way around…newer piece, older date, I’ve seen a number of these pieces done in memoriam to someone who has passed on.  Also they are not infrequently found as belated mementos to celebrate weddings and anniversaries.  Perhaps you couldn’t afford that engraved silver bowl when you got married, but 25 years later you can.

Dating silver

Dating silver is an art rather than a science.  Although it would be nice to be able to rely on engraved silver, there are many other factors to take into account. The small silver dessert bowls in the photo are a good example of how we can’t rely on the dates of engraved silver as precise markers.  They were made in the US by the Webster Company who operated between 1894 through the 20th century. So obviously they were made after the initial date engraved on the bowl.  As for the end date…that’s much more difficult.  Webster were making silver long past 1918.  That’s when I have to add other makers to make a determination of date.  In this case I’m using style, the maker’s trademark (which often changes over time) and the first hand knowledge of my client.


Any date disconnects on engraved silver in your house?


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4 thoughts on “Engraved Silver | The Date isn’t Carved in Stone

  1. bevNo Gravatar

    Good insights, as always! I have seen pieces that show your first example– the piece is old and carries a newer engraved date suggesting that someone bought a vintage piece to commemorate a current occasion.
    I enjoy the beauty of some of the old monograms. I’ve also heard folks who collect applied monograms because of their artistry- what wonderful, specialized collecting!

  2. ElizabethNo Gravatar

    I have a Whiting floral patterned bowl that has the engraving “Love Playgroup 12-22-1999” but luckily it has the date mark as well and was made in 1906.

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