A woman came into Skinner with a collection of family silver that she no longer wanted. She’d already been to a smelter, who offered her $800 to melt the silver down for scrap. It was tempting to take the money, but she felt bad about the decision and decided to come to Skinner auction house first. Clearly, she was uncomfortable with the idea of scrapping something with family history and artistic value.
Although the items in the silver collection in question aren’t extraordinarily rare pieces, as with all antiques the objects have some history and interest as decorative objects. The pieces she brought in included early 19th century coin silver spoons, as well as 20th century bowls, cake plates, and small sewing pieces.
Many people, including myself, have difficulty seeing any item that a craftsperson worked long and hard to create being melted down for its weight in silver (or gold). Still, we find that there are some instances where the price a silver item will bring at auction runs quite close to what a smelter or scrapper might pay.
Find the Value of Your Silver
For those of us dedicated to the world of antiques and art, the idea of scrapping is difficult to take, but we know that it is an option for people looking to generate income from unwanted objects. But, with all things being equal, before making that decision, we encourage first investigating selling your silver at auction, rather than melting it down.
If you take a collection to a smelter or scrapper knowing nothing about when it was manufactured, or by whom, you may inadvertently let go of a rare, high-quality silver piece for significantly less than its true worth. Even worse than the monetary loss, a rare art object could be destroyed. Scrapping for silver weight takes only the material into account when assessing value. And, weight is only one part of the equation.
An item’s age, rarity, and aesthetics are other factors to be considered when assessing an items’ worth.
So, before scrapping your silver, have it looked at by a specialist. A silver appraiser at an auction gallery will view your pieces, identify their date of manufacture, and assess quality, condition, and aesthetics together with the value of silver weight. Once you have this information, you can then make an educated decision about what to do with the items.
The antiques world is a business of knowledge. The person with the most knowledge walks away with the best value and the greatest rewards
In Fine Silver auctions at Skinner, we often see silver sell well beyond its melt value. Here are a few examples of small items with a minimal silver metal weight that achieved mighty results due to age, origin, maker and workmanship:
Two George III Sterling Silver Wine Coasters, sold for: $1,599
Tiffany & Co. “Winthrop” Pattern Sterling Silver Asparagus Tongs, sold for: $615
George Shiebler Sterling Silver Sardine Serving Fork, sold for: $1,169
Our auction schedule lists upcoming sales, or conduct a sitewide keyword search to learn more about the types of silver items that draw the most interest from collectors.
The antiques world is a business of knowledge. The person with the most knowledge walks away with the best value and the greatest rewards. At Skinner, our expert appraisers can empower you with knowledge about your silver or other antiques to help you make an informed decision about what to do with items that hold your family’s history.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in May 2011, revised in December 2019 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.