Jean McClelland: Flatware, silver or silver-plated, is still in demand
Antique eating utensils can date back centuries. Beautiful old flatware, whether it is silver or silver-plated, has a special soft gleam to it that just can't be bought new. Many years of polishing and care leave that special patina that shows pieces were well used and well loved.
When collecting antique sterling silver the first thing a person needs to know is if a piece is real silver or not. If it is the real thing it will have the word 'sterling' on it if it was made in America after 1860. Prior to that, markings are varied, some may have the maker's name or initials or maybe '925 silver' on it. There is a very helpful website for collectors called The Encyclopedia of Silver Marks, Hallmarks and Maker's Marks that offers great information (www.925-1000.com).
Those in the field of collecting silver suggest collecting sterling instead of silver plate. One very good reason is that sterling is said to last a lifetime with proper care and silver plate has a life span of about 20 years. The constant polishing takes miniscule bits of silver away as the tarnish is removed hence the shortened life of silver plate.
Some hints for taking care of silver: Drying the silver adequately after washing is important. Moisture causes tarnish, as do most foods containing sulfur. Hand washing and manually drying continually enhances the patina. When cleaning with a silver polish use a light hand because over time the harshly rubbed silver will wear quicker. The beauty of silver only increases with age and few antiques weather so well as silver that has had good care.
Antique sterling silver flatware that is handmade seems to be most appealing to collectors. Much of what is left from the Victorian era was mass-produced and even though it is old it isn't as appealing as the more recent handmade. Other factors that will influence price are patterns and functionality of a piece. Antique flatware must be useful as well as appealing to the owner. For example, sardine servers are not in big demand these days.
If you are interested in locating a particular pattern there are numerous places on the Internet to compare prices. Locally, the Pilot Club Antique Show is still in full swing until 5 p.m. today, Sept. 30, at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena Conference Center, or our own local antique shops might have just the thing you seek.
Jean McClelland writes about antiques for The Herald-Dispatch.