So this spring, with my parents looking to move and my sister,
brother and I uninterested in silverware that requires regular
polishing, I started looking to sell it.
Even though my parentsí full-service set for 12 was from a reputable
manufacturer, Towle, and in impeccable condition in a
blue-velvet-lined wooden box, selling it turned out to be neither as
easy nor as lucrative as we had hoped.
"Do not expect your 19th- or 20th-century flatware is going to be
worth a lot of money," says Matthew Erskine, a lawyer and principal
at the Erskine Co, a Worcester, Massachusetts-based strategic
adviser to entrepreneurs and collectors.
If you have high-end Tiffany, that is better than mass-market
sterling flatware by the likes of Towle or Reed & Barton. "They
cranked that stuff out like popcorn," Erskine says.
Still, even if what you have is not worthy of "Antiques Roadshow,"
you will want to get a sense of what you have. Real sterling silver
should be identified with the number .925 marked in miniature print.
Other details may be noted as well.
Picking a buyer means venturing into unregulated turf, where it is
easy to be ripped off unless you know your stuff.
Be careful of buyers that advertise heavily or want to do a quick
deal. And be aware that regardless of where you sell on the open
market, you will owe taxes on the gain, at the special 28 percent
rate for collectibles.
Start with the most high-end buyer on your list, and work your way
down, advises Stuart Slavid, a vice president at auction house
Skinner Inc, one of whose specialties is silver. That way you will
have a better chance of getting the best price.
Slavid figures that some 75 percent of those who bring in silver
have something worth more than melt value. Certain patterns by
Tiffany and Gorham are particularly prized by collectors, he notes.
I did not think our silver was especially valuable, so I started by
sussing out what it was selling for on eBay and Replacements Ltd, a
company that sells sterling flatware by the piece and posts all its
retail prices online.
Replacements was selling a teaspoon in our 1958 Awakening pattern at
$35.99. A large serving spoon went for $79.96.
I was pretty sure our items would be worth more at resale than as
metal, especially since silver prices had fallen to around $19.50
per troy ounce from their 2011 peak near $50.
But getting a good price proved less simple. I contacted
Replacements, which I calculated was offering the 72 items in our
set for about $2,800. They offered to pay around $700.
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I also contacted Classic Replacements, which had the advantage of
being within driving distance, but they had no interest in our
pattern. A friend of a friend with a retail store offered just $500.
I could have gotten more quotes from silver buyers, such as Antique
Cupboard, or even talked with an auction house like Skinner.
In retrospect, I wish I had, but it seemed that melting would be a
Refiners buy all types of metals and pay based on their melt values.
Sterling is 92.5 percent silver, and there is also a little bit of
loss during the melting process; a good refiner should pay 90
percent of the melt value.
If you weighed your silver at home, keep in mind that an ounce of
sterling silver is 84.3 percent of a troy ounce of silver, which is
how the price is quoted. You do not need a middleman to sell to a
A few refiners got good online reviews. I chose Northern Refineries.
It was willing to buy the knives, which many refiners refuse because
the blades are stainless and there is filler inside the handles to
create the appropriate weight.
My parents packed their flatware, and shipped it off a few weeks
ago, making sure to insure the package. The company promised to pay
90 percent of the value of the silver after melt, at current prices.
When my parents received the check earlier this month, it was not as
high as we had hoped, but it was far better than the other offers
we'd received: $1,052.
Now we just have two sets of china to sell.
(This story has been refiled to correct spelling of Worcester from
Wooster in paragraph 4)
(Editing by Beth Pinsker and Lisa Von Ahn)
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