Identifying and Pricing Your Sterling Flatware
A $2000 sterling spoon, or a $2 sterling spoon, that is the question?
How do you know if you have a two or a 2000-dollar sterling spoon? How do you identify a flatware pattern, determine its age, and know whether or not it has had a monogram removal, if it is a modern-marriage or even a custom-made item?
The first step is to ascertain the pattern, if it is not stated on the item, identify the manufacturer marks next to the sterling stamp by checking them against a list of manufacturer’s marks in the back of any good sterling flatware book.
Sterling souvenir spoons are not to be confused with flatware pattern sterling spoons, they carry very different values. Souvenir spoons will fetch a lot more if there is something special about them, such as one spoon that I sold for 1800 dollars on Ebay because it was enameled and featured the face of a little black boy eating a watermelon. The average cost for a sterling souvenir spoon, of no great popularity, is approximately 21 dollars.
Once you have identified the manufacturer and the pattern there are a few more things to check before you can gauge the value.
The first question you should ask yourself is this: Is this pattern still in production? If you do not have a book that tells you this, call the manufacturer and find out. Your item may look old but it could be brand new, it takes only a few days to give sterling a fake patina by using a crude process to cause blackening – but explaining how to do that is another article.
If your pattern is not currently in production, it is more likely to be old. Many dealers advertise the age of an item as being the date that the pattern was patented, when in fact the item may have been produced 60 years later – so keep this in mind when ascertaining the true age of your item. Some patterns such as Repousse by Kirk went through a metamorphosis three times, and these changes in the actual pattern itself help in ascertaining the year of the production; with most patterns it is not that easy. The Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½Jewels Sterling Flatware Index’ does list which patterns are currently in production.
Monogram removal reduces the value of an item, but items with monograms are harder to sell, so unscrupulous dealers remove them. If you look with an eyeglass closely at an item you will see tiny dots/dents where a monogram has been removed. On some items you will see swirling scratches where it has been buffed. This also depreciates the value.
How can you tell if what you have is a Modern Marriage or a Custom Made item?
The words modern marriage and custom-made are just some of the interchangeable terms used to make the word Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½fake’ seem more acceptable. However, there is nothing wrong with a custom-made item when it is presented as such, in fact, many of these items are extremely attractive and would not be available ordinarily. An excellent example of this would be a cheese grater in the Lily of the Valley pattern, by Whiting.
Custom-made and modern-marriage items are often an original sterling knife handle joined to a modern piece of stainless Sheffield making a pie server, ice cream scoop or similar. Other forms of custom made items are forks, Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½re-fashioned’ and re-sold as Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½sterling twisted baked potato forks,’ or teaspoons re-fashioned into Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½twisted butter picks,’ Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½pate servers’ or Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½radish scoops.’
So how do you know if you have the original or the fake? If the stainless area of the item does not bear the trademark of the original producer, it may not be original, but as many were not marked in this area you will have to check around the join area of the piece, where the handle meets the stainless. Is there any pattern loss or is there a stamp around the join area of the handle that is blurred? If there is no mark at all, or if the marking for the actual manufacturer is only on the handle or they are present on the handle but blurry, you may have a custom-made item. Custom-made, modern-marriage pieces that are made entirely out of sterling are rare. Pieces combining sterling handles with silver plate add-ons are fairly common, dinner bells being a popular example.
These items, whilst aesthetically pleasing, are of far less value than an original. The controversy is of course that the items are re-fashioned from part or all of an original item, thus leaving open to speculation the question of whether or not the item is truly a fake. It basically depends on what the item is sold as; it is thus only a fake if it is sold as an original antique…
Find out if this item was ever produced in this pattern – if it was, and all the markings are in order, plus there is no pattern loss or stamp loss around the join, you have the original.
Custom-made items, that is, items that are all silver and re-fashioned from a teaspoon, fork or butter knife, should be checked in the same way. Is there any pattern loss where the handle meets the eating area, is the stamp blurred out and was this item ever made in this pattern?
Furthermore, check if the pattern is currently in production, if it is your item may be original, but it may be brand new with a fake patina; again depreciating the value. A common pattern for this is Grand Baroque by Wallace because it is an old pattern that is still in production; however, the older pieces are much heavier! Silver plate hollowware by Wallace and other American manufacturers are currently being produced in China. Stickers that say Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½Made in China’ are removed by unscrupulous dealers, revealing only the Wallace stamp in the silver plate. These items are much lighter than their earlier American-made counterparts.
For the average sterling flatware teaspoon, 21 dollars is a good rough gage. However, any flatware produced by makers such as, Tiffany and Georg Jensen are worth considerably more. Even patterns by lesser manufacturers such as, Isis by Gorham, Renaissance by Dominick and Haff, and Lily of the Valley by Whiting are extremely sought after patterns that will fetch high prices. Popular patterns such as Buttercup by Gorham, Old Master by Towle and Grande Baroque by Wallace will guarantee a fast 21 dollar return on a teaspoon in an antique mall, but less popular patterns will not.
A sterling flatware dealer pays on average six dollars per teaspoon. Knowing what you have requires a little scrutiny and a fair amount of research, but it will pay off.