Last month I helped a client work through the disappointment of discovering that the gold ring she wished to sell was not nearly worth what she had paid, and discussed the concerns of selling gold jewelry. This month I will discuss how, as I helped a client move to a condo, I coordinated the sale of her silver-plated and sterling silver serving pieces and I got a crash course in the resale potential of silver.
Of all the many display pieces this widow had amassed in her home over 40 years, her silver and silver-plated items were in the majority, followed closely by classic Lenox china. These silver and Lenox collections included multiple trays, bowls, pitchers, vases and dreidels. Many had never been used! While she enjoyed telling me the history of each item, she had no regrets about getting rid of the lot. She did not expect to be entertaining once she moved to a senior community. I recalled visits with my parents and in-laws in their own senior communities, where people were very social and loved hosting friends for light fare or coffee and dessert. I advised her to keep her Lenox dessert dishes and weed out the silver-plated turkey platter and the Rosenthal soup tureen.
I texted my go-to expert for directions on selling silver and learned it is wiser to sell silver and silver plate as scrap rather than to spend time and energy romancing fickle antiques buyers.
To save my client, who depends on a walker, from having to drive to an unfamiliar town and transport over-stuffed boxes of silver from her car to the store, I volunteered my services. Enter Century 20, an antiques dealer and estate liquidator that has been in business at 72 Raritan Avenue in Highland Park for the past 11 years. I chose Century 20 for two reasons. I like patronizing local businesses, and I had heard the owner, John Costanza, was honest and pleasant to deal with. Before going, I phoned to explain my needs and made an appointment with John. It was wise that I did this because his business often necessitates that he be in and out of the store.
Walk into Century 20 and take a step back a few decades. There are showcases filled with jewelry and various collectibles. Current daily prices of precious metals are clearly posted, as required by New Jersey law. John uses a scale certified by the New Jersey office of weights and measures. “Lately the market is very volatile,” he explained. “The price of silver could go up or down by 5% in the matter of a day.” He separated the real silver pieces from the silver-plated ones and weighed them, as they have very different values. In the U.S., sterling silver contains 92.5 silver. This is why you will see a stamp of “925” on silver that was crafted in the 20th century through today. There are various other numbers used in other countries that are equally as reliable. These hallmarks are a sign of the purity level of the silver used as a guarantee of quality. Silver pieces that were crafted prior to the 20th century will not have identifying numbers but may have the manufacturer’s name stamped in a discreet place.
Do you have various metals piling up at home and you feel stuck because you don’t want them, but someone told you they must be worth something? I invite you to try any of the following home tests that identify silver:
- Use magnets to identify silver. Magnets are attracted to metals such as steel, iron, cobalt, nickel and manganese, but not silver. Select a medium-to-large-sized magnet and place it against each of the items you are testing. If the magnet sticks, it is not silver. In the case of jewelry, often the catch of a necklace or bracelet could be made of metal and the rest of the piece could be sterling silver, or an earring back could include a steel spring. The steel spring or the metal catch would attract a magnet, but for a true reading, test the entire piece of jewelry.
- Silver conducts heat. Place small silver items on their own ice cube, making sure each item is at room temperature. As a control, choose one item you know is not silver and place that on top of an ice cube. Monitor which ice cube melts faster. The one that clearly melts faster is silver. If there is no difference in melting times, none of the pieces are silver.
- Soft-cloth test. Buff the silver with a soft cloth to remove the tarnish or black spots. If the corrosion remains and only surface dirt comes off, the piece is not silver. If the cloth becomes blackened and the stain has lightened, you are holding a genuine piece of silver.
Now you are at the point that you know whether you possess silver. How do you know if you have silver plate? John told me silver-plate items were typical wedding gifts in the 1940s through the 1970s, but no longer appear on gift registries and have little resale value. Symbols you will find to identify silver plate from other metal items are “EP” and “EPNS.” These stand for electroplate and electroplated nickel silver, objects of no worth. Century 20 will buy silver plate to be melted down to reuse the underlying metals.
There are some high-end manufacturers from the 19th century and earlier that produced silver-plated pieces that still fetch a high price, including Tiffany and Co. and Cartier. John advised anyone who wants to sell their unwanted silver and silver plate to look on eBay for actual prices paid for similar items. In addition, John told me if someone has an interesting or unusual piece they think may be of value, he would be able to evaluate it in his store. Once a customer brought in a box of flatware to sell. John appraised it as silver plate, but was taken by a noteworthy silver spoon that also sat in the box. After researching the spoon, he found it was actually crafted by Paul Revere. Representing this customer, John brought it to auction where it sold for $7,000!
I asked John if there is a minimum or maximum amount of silver he requires from a prospective customer. He said, “Any quantity of silver or silver plate is fine. The more the better.” If you can’t make it to John’s store and are looking to dispose of metal, ask your friends and neighbors if they have “a guy” who will take it for free. In my neighborhood our mailman is that “guy.” That’s fair. I recycle the paper he brings me, and he recycles the metal I give him.
Ellen Smith is Central Jersey’s Kosher Organizer and tzniut wardrobe stylist. For over 14 years, Ellen has helped people restore order and create calm in their homes and souls. Ellen believes “Clutter Clogs, but Harmony Heals.” See Ellen’s work on Instagram @ideclutterbyEllen. Contact Ellen for a complimentary phone consultation at ideclutter407@gmail.