November 29, 2023

For some people, a set of Sterling silver utensils can be a prized possession — and collecting, preserving, and actually using silverware can be a genuinely rewarding experience. Not only does silver elevate and add a touch of class to the dinner table, but it can also connect users to intimate family or regional history. These same collectors often look forward to cleaning and polishing their silver to a radiant shine and passing their sets down to future generations.

But not everyone has that same connection to their silverware, and that’s fine! Perhaps you’ve inherited a set, large or small, from a relative. Perhaps you’ve come into possession of a set from an estate sale, antique shop or garage sale. Or maybe you’ve realized that your silverware isn’t serving much of a purpose; your aesthetic preferences, lifestyle or financial situation means that selling your silverware makes far better sense — and that dusty set of silver forks, spoons and knives would better be converted into cash.

If so, we’re here to help! You can always bring silverware straight into our storefront — we’re happy to sort and identify your collection and discuss a reasonable price. But if you’d like to expedite the process — and learn a little more about the ideal state and the possible value of your collection while doing so — read on for some tips on prepping your silverware for sale.

What’s Silverware, Anyway?

First, a few definitions:

  • Silverware is a general term used to designate utensils and other implements used at the dining table — common synonyms are ‘tableware’ and ‘dinnerware.’ As silver-based tableware declined in popularity, people still kept on using the term ‘silverware’ to refer to items that weren’t actually made of silver (and instead were made of stainless steel).
  • Flatware is a term indicating plates, bowls, and utensils like spoons and forks: the tools and surfaces we use to eat our meals. Knives and other cutting tools are sometimes categorized as cutlery, and ‘cutlery’ is also used as a blanket term for all flatware and tableware!
  • Holloware refers to items made to hold or store things at the table, and includes jugs, creamers, pots, napkin rings, and other accessory vessels with a more ‘closed’ or ‘covered’ shape than bowls.

With these terms in mind, we can turn to the first step in preparing silverware for sale: knowing if you’ve got silver in the first place.

Identifying Genuine Silverware

To identify genuine silver items, check for a hallmark. The most common purity (and percentage) for real silverware will be 925 parts per thousand, or 92.5% silver, a level also (and more commonly) known as ‘sterling.’ Conveniently, just about all silverware of this quality that was created in the mid- to late-1800s and onward was stamped as sterling, sterling silver, or STER, which makes it easy to identify. Some silver dinnerware items made in Europe and elsewhere contain 50%, 80% or other percentages of silver.

You might have to inspect your silverware carefully, and with a magnifying glass, if the hallmark is very old or rubbed away by time, tarnish, corrosion and scrubbing. Check back handles, shoulders, and collars of utensils, and inspect the bases and handles of holloware. Note that holloware accessories are frequently silver plated, and not sterling silver. If a symbol reads ‘EP,’ or ‘EPNS,’ you’ve got electroplated or electroplated nickel silver, respectively — and these items don’t have enough silver in them to warrant melting down and recycling. As you can expect, we won’t buy them for their silver value.

A table with a tablecloth, upon which there is a knife, fork, and spoon lying on a folded napkin to the right of a gleaming plate

Not all is lost, though. Collectors are still sometimes interested in purchasing items even if they’re merely silver- or electroplated. Beyond the silver content of the items, some silverware has value for being antique/vintage, rare, or storied in some way. If you can find the marker’s mark, you can cross-reference the symbols or letters to maker’s mark directories online and in print. If you can do this, you can tell who made it (the name of the silversmith), the location and the time period in which it was made.

This can be a lot of work to take on, especially if you’re not interested in the field or you want to sell your items quickly. When prepping your silverware for sale, keep good notes on what you find to establish some reasonable expectations. Then, let our expert staff help you decode silver hallmarks and demystify the experience.

Sorting and Weighing Your Silverware

As mentioned above, we’re happy to sort through your silverware; doing so is a necessary part of the evaluation process.

But if you want to make this step yourself, it’s helpful to sort by category or type (e.g., forks with forks, spoons with spoons, silver holloware with similar items); by silver content (all sterling silver together, for example); and by other notes and details you find from your research, including information you record from maker’s marks.

You can also take a digital scale and weigh each item individually. Record the weights by the gram or by the ounce. We’ll do this for you, regardless, if you decide to pay us a visit (and note: top silver buyers will always weigh each piece of your investment individually; bulk deals and estimates aren’t part of a professional and transparent service).

Storing and Caring for Your Silverware

We recommend bringing us your silverware for a free evaluation whenever you can. Why wait to get a competitive offer? Let our staff reach out to our extensive network of collectors to find a potential buyer for an antique item today.

But if you won’t be coming in soon, you’ll want to store and take care of your silverware in the meantime. You may also have questions about cleaning items that are dirty, tarnished or corroded, which is only natural: silverware can be quite sensitive.

Extended exposure to sunlight, humidity and moisture are probably the most common ways for your investment to tarnish. If you or previous owners of the silverware used it for dining, then it could also come into contact with sulfur compounds found in foods like eggs, garlic, onions, mustards, and a whole bunch more. Very salty foods (or salty water and condiments) and highly acidic fruits can also lead to corrosion. This is not to say that flat- and holloware need to stay away from the table and never be used — corrosion, tarnishing and damage tend to happen when silver items aren’t cleaned thoroughly and quickly after use.

Here are a few pointers to retain maximum value.

A silver spoon with an ornate handle lying on a wooden surface

Storing Silverware

Storing your silverware improperly can spell disaster for your investment, and it is usually due to what the silverware is stored with.

For example, when silverware is stored in direct contact with stainless steel utensils, and the surrounding atmosphere is humid or moist, your sterling silver can undergo ‘galvanic corrosion’ and become discoloured. Rubber bands also contain enough sulfur to tarnish silver items that are stored in direct contact with them. Plastic wrap can also do the same thing.

To be safe, keep silverware in a cool, dry (non-humid) place away from direct sunlight. Never put away silverware that’s wet; if you can store it upright (or vertically, rather than horizontally), all the better. If you’re going to be storing silverware for a long period of time, considering wrapping pieces individually in soft cloth, and investing in drawer liners and anti-tarnish strips.

Cleaning Silverware

Abrasive cleaning products can spell the end to your silver’s shine and smooth surface. Keep your silver away from bleach, ammonia, citric acids, vinegar, and other household cleaning remedies, like toothpaste and baking soda. Read chemical cleaning instructions and ingredients carefully or, better yet, keep your silverware away from household cleaners altogether.

Likewise, dishwashers should be right out of the discussion — the water will be too hot and the detergents will be too abrasive. You could see your silverware degrading, turning colour, expanding out of handles, or undergoing another chemical transformation.

The tools some people use to clean their silverware can also be too stiff or abrasive for such a sensitive metal. Stiff-bristled scrubbers and rough sponges can scratch a smooth surface and rub off important protective coatings. You don’t want to smooth away intricate patterns, bend or warp delicate tines or handles, or reveal the base metals beneath that beautiful silver!

Ultimately, if your silver is filthy or close to black in colour, you can wash in warm water and a mild detergent, using a very soft cloth to remove debris. Afterward, you’ll need to dry everything thoroughly, leaving no water streaks. Be as gentle as you can be (just as you would if you were selling your silver jewellery, which might be highly delicate)!

If you are selling these items for their silver value, you don’t need to polish or buff things to an extraordinary shine, since the silverware is going to be recycled anyway.

On the other hand, if you’re hoping to sell for collectability, don’t touch it at all; you’ll risk ruining the patina. You’ll read a lot of articles online about using silver foam paste, polishing with soft, cellulose sponges, or applying a super-soft toothbrush to places the sponge won’t reach. Some enthusiasts will even recommend using all-natural glass cleaner and cotton pads. But that’s for personal taste and for items in your personal collection only.

Ultimately, the best advice is to bring your silverware to an expert and receive an expert opinion.

Your Next Steps

Once you’re comfortable parting with your silverware, be sure to skip online marketplaces and pawn shops, even if they seem like quicker or more convenient options. Instead, seek out a professional buyer who specializes in silver and has a longstanding, positive reputation in the community (this is the same advice we give anyone hoping to sell silver coins, jewellery, or bullion).

We promise that working with the pros will save you time, money and frustration, and will guarantee you have a pleasant and individualized experience. Whatever you have to offer, our customer-service-oriented staff is here to provide not only the courtesy and respect you deserve as a client, but also an informative, insightful conversation about all types of silverware. If you’ve got an antique or vintage piece of silver, we’ll be eager to hear about how you used, enjoyed and came to own a piece of history — after all, silverware can speak volumes about who we are, where we came from, and the times in which we lived.

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