Sheffield has long been one of the foremost producers of silver and silver plate, particularly cutlery.
It’s history is superbly exhibited in Sheffield’s Millennium Gallery.
Today creative silversmiths continue the tradition with imagination and innovation.
Silver is good to work with, in its purest forms it is malleable and can be worked into intricate and decorative designs. There are differing grades of silver; the standard in Britain being ‘925’ (parts of silver per thousand parts) and the lowest is the continental ‘800’ grade. British and Irish silver are hallmarked enabling easy identification through an assay office mark (crown or rose for Sheffield), a date letter and usually a maker’s mark (initials). Hallmarks also include authentication with a lion passant mark originally introduced in 1544. Since 1842 all imported silver had to be assayed at a British office and this remains the case today.
Traditionally silver was used as a sign of wealth and, as well as being valued for its beauty, has always had an instant cash (scrap) value dependent on the current market. Consequently when times are hard, silver like gold, can be quickly “cashed in”.
There is a huge variety of antique and vintage silver available to a collector from the most expensive costing thousands to the lower priced pieces costing £20 to £50 for thimbles, match cases, dressing table boxes, silver blade fruit knives, pill boxes, book marks, napkin rings and jewellery. It is always possible to find good examples within a budget. Some pieces will have significant age and usage wear but many antique and vintage pieces will only have minor surface wear which is generally acceptable to collectors. Of course, as well as being collectable, many silver items retain a practical use such as cutlery, cigarette cases, cruet sets, small dishes and jugs. The more ornate pieces can be a great talking point.
There is plenty of advice at hand from knowledgeable dealers, antiques centres to auction houses (most have valuation days), good books (Jackson’s Hallmarks) and some excellent websites. Check out internet auction sites for an idea of current prices.
Article by Mike Brett