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How should you go about collecting and purchasing Antique Silver?

Now days everyone I meet seems to enjoy browsing the many antique shops around and have started a collection of some sort. One item that seems to be particularly popular to collect is vintage silverware, because it is relatively easy to find.

Originally some people started off their collection by getting a few pieces which they would use for serving at dinner parties or even collecting a full set to be used on special occasions. Whatever the reason, it is wonderful to know a little about this particular antique and hopefully help when you are looking to purchase pieces in the future.

The first thing you need to consider is whether you wish to buy sterling silver or silver plate. During the 1700 and 1800’s setting your table with sterling silverware it was a sign of wealth in England, Europe and America. However, because of the invention of electroplating during the last century, the use of silver plated cutlery has become an affordable luxury in the average family household. Certainly silver plated pieces are what you are more likely to find when searching for antique silverware. Usually these pieces will have the maker and company’s name on who had produced them. However, sterling silver pieces are much rarer to find and usually on have a maker’s name or initials on them along with the location where they were made.

The next thing you will need to consider is what sort of pattern you are going to collect. There are hundreds of patterns and styles as well as many different makers of these items. The best of way of avoiding only having a half set of one particular pattern is to look for ones that you can mix and match. This is one of the best ways of putting together a good quality set of vintage silverware and by the end you should have a service that is not only practical but is a pleasant visual experience when arranged on your dining table.

From the 1870’s to about the 1920’s the popularity of silverware being used was at its peak. Many makers of silverware would make up to 100 different pieces of a particular pattern. Certainly during Victorian times dining had become a very elaborate affair, with sometimes as many as eight or more courses being served to the guests. Each dinner would obviously begin with soup, this would be followed by a salad course, then you would have a fruit course (supposed to help cleanse the palate) and then the other courses would follow i.e., fish, meat, desert, cheese and more fruit. So you would find that there were a large variety of forks, knives and spoons laid out on the table to compliment each course. Certainly when searching for a particular pattern that you are collecting in the myriad of antique shops around you will not only find knives, forks and spoons you may find a set of lovely demitasse spoons (used with coffee) or even the more rarer of items terrapin forks (which would have been used for eating turtles)!

As you look around the antique shops for pieces to add your collection you will occasionally find pieces that have been repaired. Although this does not generally ruin the appearance of the item, it may be reduce its value, but if the item shows slight signs of wear it does not decrease its value (it just shows that it was a much used and loved item). What I would suggest you do not purchase is items that have been extremely tarnished. Items that are often highly tarnished will hide signs of damage and any imperfections on them and they even may have been altered to make them appear rarer than they are. It has been known for spoons to have been cut sometimes so that they in fact resemble an ice cream fork or have been pierced to look like a sugar shifter (both of which seem to be extremely rare items to find).

Now you have made that all important purchase you will now need to know everything possible on how to preserve the items beauty and value. At all times these items should be stored in a dry place, preferably if possible a silver file or drawer. Cover the pieces with a soft cloth to prevent any tarnishing and when they need polishing use only a non abrasive silver polish and a soft polishing cloth. Again you must remember to wash and dry them thoroughly, using only warm water with a weak detergent mixture in and soft cloths to dry them with.

If you become serious about building up a good collection of silverware it is an idea to educate yourself on collecting silverware. Not only can you purchase books on the subject over the internet or go to your local library or bookstore, you could even carry out a search on “antique silverware” at any one of the search engines available on the web (such as Google).

But for now just have a great time rummaging through the many aisles and stalls at various antique shops or markets searching for the most beautiful pattern of vintage silverware you could imagine.

About the Author: Allison Thompson a work from home mum now living in Spain who has become interested in collecting antiques and has produced a site called providing information on this subject.

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