Collecting Silver

Collecting Silver

Collecting antique and modern silver objects is an area enjoyed by both the novice and seasoned professional, the breadth, depth and price range on offer makes it enjoyable for all.

Some focus on one theme, say Charles Horner hat pins, Nathaniel Mills castle top card cases, Victorian and Edwardian pin cushions in the shape of animals, anything related to wine such as corkscrews, wine funnels, claret jugs or decanter labels. Others may collect anything made by one silversmith, Hester Bateman of the late 18th century or the early 20th century work of Archibald Knox for Liberty’s are just a few examples.  


The joy of silver is partly in the fact it is such a tactile material, yes it does require a little work to keep it shining brightly but modern-day cleaners are often enhanced with an ingredient to prevent re-tarnishing, something our ancestors would have greatly appreciated.

One benefit of collecting British silver is the fact that it carries hallmarks, a series of marks punched onto the piece which may well be the oldest forms of consumer protection still in existence, meaning a mark from the hall. A brief history of how this system came about takes us back to medieval England in the reign of Henry II. Due to the softness of silver in its purest form it needs to be mixed with an alloy to give it strength, a mix of 92.5% silver to 7.5% copper gave an excellent alloy and the king made a law to say this was the legal standard and hence sterling silver was born. Early on the alloy was used mainly for coins and the pound sterling was born from this but as is the want of high status individuals they also wanted special items made from silver. In 1238 King Henry II passed a new law that meant no silver items could be made that were not of the same sterling standard as coins. Eventually it became apparent that more regulation was needed and Edward II initiated the leopard’s head crowned mark which showed it had been to the Goldsmith’s hall in London to be assayed (tested for its purity) and only then could it be sold on. In 1327 The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths received its royal charter from Edward III and this wonderful guild survives and thrives today.

The hallmarks have varied over time and city assay offices have come and gone but fortunately records have been well kept and it is generally easy to identify marks. You should see a maker’s or sponsor’s mark which are generally the initials of the person or company, a sterling silver mark which is the lion passant (walking with right paw raised), the assay office mark (for example London a leopard’s head, Birmingham an anchor, Sheffield a crown / a rose from 1975, Edinburgh – a castle, etc) and a date letter which indicates when it was made using a letter of the alphabet which runs in cycles of 25 years. There are variations including commemorative marks such as the millennium and royal events such as coronations.

The value of silver does go up and down in line with bullion prices and as a recyclable material it is sadly scrapped, not always to be remade into another useful or decorative object for the home or a piece of jewellery but for computers, mobile phones and other electronic devices that we rely on heavily today.

Collecting silver need not break the bank and a Charles Horner silver thimble might cost you around £10 at auction, a hat pin by the same maker around £30-40 and an enamel and silver pendant by him around £200. At the other end of the spectrum Georgian and Regency silver by some of the most famous British silversmith’s can sell for over £100,000 but there is much more to be had in the £100 £1000 price bracket.



The forthcoming Fine Silver sale Monday 21st March 2018 (Entries are now being invited with the closing date Tuesday 20th February 2018) Free Valuations every Tuesday 9.30am – 4.00pm at The Lichfield Auction Centre, Wood End Lane, Fradley Park, WS13 8NF.


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