In Part 2 of How to Collect Silver, let’s consider the details (or more specifically all the things Bev asked about in her question which prompted this post). If you missed part 1 – here is the link How to Collect Silver The Essentials.
The technical aspects of how to collect silver
Maker – This is a really difficult one to address. On one hand it is very easy to say buy the name brands. In the US this means first tier companies like Gorham, Whiting, and Tiffany. But then you’d miss out on all the small producers, like Dominik & Haff who made this tremendous silver bowl.
Dominik & Haff were a very fine New York firm, well known for high quality work, who operated from 1868 until 1928 at which point they were taken over by Reed & Barton. This was the fate of many fine small firms. The silver business was quite ruthless and waves of expansion are soon followed by takeovers. The big fish in the pond like to stay that way and they ate the small fish at a rapid pace. International Silver and Gorham were particularly voracious.
Style/pattern – This is a truly personal choice. Just bear in mind that the rarer a piece or pattern, the more expensive it is going to be.
Age – The best way to keep age in the proper perspective is to think about whether the piece you are considering is from that era, or simply ‘made in the style’ of that era. Just because I love Georgian design, it doesn’t mean I add every Georgian-type spoon to my collection. I’m not interested in ‘Georgian’ spoons made in 1952. They need to be made in the Georgian era (and of high quality).
Conversely, I won’t turn up my nose just because a piece is modern rather than old. Many breath-taking pieces were created by silversmiths in relatively recent years. The post-war modernist period produced much exquisite work. The art of silversmithing lives on with contemporary silversmiths producing brilliant work of incredible quality.
The business side of how to collect silver
Price – Yes, price should be a consideration. Don’t buy it just because it’s all you can afford. Wait a while and save up for something really fantastic, rather than settle for the instant gratification of a mediocre piece now. Remember quality and price are not always directly related!!
Return policies – When you purchase a piece of silver also give at least a fleeting thought to whom you are purchasing it from. Take a moment to ask about or read store policies. Returns are an essential protection for the buyer. When you are looking at a piece in person or over the internet you can’t always envision what it will look like in your home. You deserve an opportunity to take it home and see.
Now, unlike large chain stores, small antique dealers can not afford to have an open-ended return policy. In my case, I’m often balancing the needs of consigners and buyers in a single transaction. I want my buyers to be certain they have the right piece, but I also have a duty to my consigners to ensure they receive their money as quickly as possible. I settled on a try-it-for-three-days approach. If you like it wonderful, if not let me know within 3 days after having received it that it is coming back and I will refund your money, no worries. This lets me be responsive to everyone’s needs.
Just because something is an antique it shouldn’t necessarily mean ‘no returns’.
Why are you collecting silver?
One last thought is for you to think about why you are collecting silver?
- Are you looking for investment pieces?
- Is there a particular style you admire – does Art Deco make you want a martini or Art Nouveau make you swoon? Personally the absolute simplicity of English Georgian silver and classical Swedish silver of the same era speak to me.
- Are you fascinated by a particular type of piece? Say martini spoons or candelabra and you want to collect as many examples as possible?
- Or are you more of a middle of the road type who likes owning and being able to use beautiful pieces in your every day life?
Even if you can’t answer the question of why your’re collecting, I think it’s important to mull it over as you go along. An investor is going to have very different criteria than a berry spoon specialist.
Also allow yourself the mental space for your collecting aims to change over time. It’s no big deal…just sell the pieces! But perhaps that’s a post for another day.