Category Archives: Buying Antique and Vintage Silver

Vintage Silver Altered-wares, part 2

Beware altered wares

Part Two in our series on fakes and altered-wares.

Last week in Forgeries, Fakes and Altered-wares part 1 we concentrated on antique and vintage silver that had undergone change – from spoon to scoop or knife handle to pie server.

This week, let’s take a closer look at Added Decoration

Over time fashions change, trends evolve and silver – like everything else – changes too. The pendulum swings from plain to ornate and back again. One of the easiest changes to make to silver is engraving, especially in the form of our old friend – the monogram. At the moment the trend is for unmarked silver, but at other times marked silver is desparately fashionable and everything gets ornate additions.

The first of today’s altered-ware techniques is monogram removals. Literally the removal of engraving through buffing away a layer of silver aroound the monogram until the level of the silver hits the lowest point of the “valley” made by the engraving. On an extensively or deeply engraved piece this can mean the removal of a significant amount of silver. When badly done it creates a visually unappealing dip in the silver.

Monogram removal closeup

Look at the terrible dip caused by this removal on these vintage silver spoons.

Monogram removals almost always leaves a little depression in the silver.  You can feel it by running a finger over the area.  Removals  are commonly found at the end of a handle or on the belly of a jug or cup at at ninety degree angle to the handle.

Technique number two is added engraving or other decoration. Just as the name implies this is adding decoration to a piece after it was made.  This might be an inscription or engraving – perhaps to commemorate an important occasion such as a 25th wedding anniversary. Just because something has a date engraved on it, that does not mean that is the date the piece was made.

Among the most polarizing (a strong word I know, but really you either love it or hate it) examples of added decoration are “berry” spoons. Let’s skip 1000 words and look at the photos.

Sterling Silver teaspoon - Georgian

A late Georgian teaspoon - simple and unadorned except for a light monogram.

English Sterling Silver Berry Spoon

A "berry" spoon - etched, gold-washed and with a fancy fruit motif pressed into the bowl.

At first glance spoon #2 does seem rather incongruous. Why is a teaspoon dated marked for 1796 by a well known maker covered in all this stuff? The answer is a perfectly lovely Georgian spoon simple and elegant as seen in photo #1 – once the tide of fashion turned to “more” – was deigned too plain and thus subjected to many ruffles and florishes favored by the Victorians. Can you tell where I stand of this issue? 🙂

What can you do?

This is another instance when a little knowledge is your best defense. Be skeptical if an antique piece of silver is presented as “never” monogrammed. Again, hold it and feel for the evidence.  After you find it the first time, you’ll remember how it feels. I often close my eyes as I check for monogram removals so I can concentrate on what my fingers are feeling.

Sterling Silver Berry Spoon

An example of the highly polarizing "berry" spoon - decoration or desecration?

As for pieces like the berry spoon just knowing that Georgian pieces tended towards simpler design while the Victorians went to the other end of the spectrum, consider if something has undergone a little “work” a la Nip & Tuck.

Does it matter?

If you know about it and can decide the merits of the piece for yourself, no, it doesn’t matter. In both of the examples above I knew about the changes and went ahead with the transaction.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Any reputable dealer alerts customers to these possibilities – added decoration, monogram removal – these mean heads up customer and understand that the piece is not in its original form. The most difficult to state with any certainty what-so-ever is added engraving or monograms. Unless there is a clear stylistic or aesthetic disconnect these are very difficult to see. Just bear in mind that engraved dates might not refer to the age of the piece but mark an event who’s significance and story is now lost to us.

If you aren’t sure ask! The dealer might not be 100% certain either, but they should do there best to explain the possibilities to you and how they reached their conclusion.

Today’s examples have led us nicely to armorials which we’ll tackle next week, so stay tuned.


Your comments are my feedback! Today’s question – berry spoons love or loathe?

Please share this post – help spread the word that silver is for more than special occasions. Thanks!