HEIRLOOM SILVER PLATE SHINES IN COLLECTORS' EYES
Two pairs: Matthew Boulton, Sheffield silver plated candlesticks, each 13 1/4 inches high, $1,035. Photo courtesy of Frank Boos Gallery
For more than 3,000 years, silver has decorated cathedrals and garnished castles all over the world. The search for this shimmering metal is what brought many explorers to the New World.
It’s been a long, slow journey to modern-day dining room tables.
Heirloom silver pieces long neglected in the attic, come back to life with a bit of polish, and a bit of consideration. Along with them often comes a story about an Aunt Marie’s birth, or mother’s wedding. Romance. Laughter. Gossip. A lifetime reflected in granny’s teapot.
By 1830 in America, the era of the individual silversmith was ending and men like John Gorham were experimenting with machinery for crafting silver in quantity. In 1847, Gorham installed a steam engine in his Providence, R.I., plant. He used the machine to make flat silver, and later, silver hollowware.
Gorham’s mechanical formula made silver available to anyone who could afford it.
Silver became the status symbol of the Victorian era and they loved new things. Butter dishes with tops rolling open. Condiment holders spinning like merry-go-rounds. Ice water pitchers tipping easily in frames.
The Victorians had unique silver containers for everything from sardines and nuts, to toothpicks and biscuits. Because many of these novelty items were plated rather than solid silver, they are less expensive to buy now.
Tea sets started out as a luxury item for the rich, but by the late-19th century they were plentiful in middle-class American dining rooms.
Gorham and Tiffany & Co. of New York led the field in American silver in the later-half of the 19th century.
Another prominent name was Georg Jensen, a Danish silversmith, who opened his New York shop in 1920.
The good thing about American silver, both sterling and coin, is that most will be marked on the reverse side, underneath, or on the bottom. English silver hallmarks can appear anyplace on the silver. Even manufactured pieces vary in workmanship and design. Better pieces will have clear, precise designs and solid detail.
“The market now for sterling silver is strong,” said Frank Boos of Boos Gallery in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. “Premier manufacturers like Tiffany and Jensen, and premier patterns like Grand Baroque are especially desirable.”
On Aug. 11-13, 1998, Frank Boos Gallery offered a selection of silver in its auction. A lot containing two identical pairs of Matthew Boulton, Sheffield silverplated candlesticks, bearing the maker’s touch mark, 13¼-inches high, sold for $1,035.
An early-20th century silverplated coffeepot with spirit burner, and stand, 6½-by-13 inches, brought $207. A pair of 19th century Sheffield silver plated wine coolers, 7 ¾-by-8¾ inches, realized $1,207.50. An early-20th century Gorham silverplated coffeepot on spirit burner and stand, 11-inches-high, $345.
“With regard to investment, sterling silver is much sounder than silverplate,” said Boos. “Also make sure the pieces you buy are in good condition with no damage or repairs.”
Auctions and household sales are a good place to purchase silver because you aren’t paying full retail price like you would in shops.
Q. I have a vase, and on the base is printed “ Nippon.” The piece is 16-inches-high with gold trim and a small piece has been glued back into place along the rim. Any idea of value? Margaret Glassbrenner, Pittsburgh.
A. Nippon refers to Japanese products made from around 1891-1921, although the Nippon mark was used in some later wares too. Nippon is a popular collectible.
Candlesticks, bowls, vases, and ashtrays are a few of the different items you’ll see bearing the name. To comply with American importation laws, Nippon was stamped on the bottom of each object. After 1921, the word Japan itself was used. Usually hand-painted, prices range from $50-$250. When you’re talking about porcelain, condition is really important and can make a big difference in price.
A good resource on Nippon is The Collector’s Encyclopedia of Nippon Porcelain by Joan Van Patten. For more information on the book write to: Collector Books, Box 102, Rexford, N.Y. 12148.
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