How to Price Silver

By Laura Scott
Silver, a number, different factors, weight
silver cups image by Hao Wang from Fotolia.com

Silver holloware and flatware are among the most popular items in the world of antiques and collectibles. Today, many silver items are bought and sold in antique shops, flea markets and online auctions like e-Bay. Before buying or selling a piece made of silver, it's important to understand its worth. There are several different ways to check a silver piece's value and determine if a selling price is fair and reasonable.

Research the Piece

Determine if a piece is sterling silver or silver plate by checking the back. Sterling silver pieces are almost always stamped sterling while silver plate pieces may or may not have stamp. Silver is popular with collectors in part because it retains a certain degree of value as a precious metal. Sterling silver is .925 percent pure silver. Silver plate is is made from another base metal, often copper, and then dipped in a sterling silver finish. Silver plate is worth a fraction of what genuine sterling silver is worth.

Weigh a piece of sterling silver on a scale that measures weight in grams. Like other precious metals, silver is bought and sold in Troy ounces which are 32 grams per ounce rather than the standard 28 grams per ounce. Determine the weight of a piece in Troy ounces and then check the price of an ounce of silver.There are several Web sites that track the price of silver which, like gold, fluctuates on a daily basis. Multiply the price of an ounce of silver by number of Troy ounces a piece weighs. That is the bottom line price of a piece of sterling silver. Individual pieces may be worth much more, but they will never be worth less.

Examine the back of the piece for a name and a maker's mark or hallmark. Most 19th and 20th century silversmiths stamped their pieces with a name and a symbol that often can be used to date a particular piece. Hallmarks on spoons, forks and knives are tiny and difficult to read. Use a magnifying glass if needed. There are several online encyclopedias of silver hallmarks that can be used to interpret the hallmark symbols.These sites also provide information on individual companies highly regarded for design and craftsmanship. Gorham Silver, Tiffany's and the Towle Company are just a few of the leading companies that produced pieces highly valued for the work as well as the metal.

Assess the condition of the piece. Silver pieces that are new or have never been used are at the top of the price scale. Used silver pieces, particularly antique pieces, often have small flaws such as creases, scratches and dents. Those imperfections will cut the price of a piece with the amount of the discount depending on the severity of the flaw. Like other collectibles, silver is rated according to a basic five-tier system: "Mint condition" for a flawless pieces; "near mint" for a piece with slight imperfections; "very good" for pieces with minor problems; "good" for pieces with a few obvious flaws; "fair" for pieces with large and noticeable dents and scratches. Monograms also reduce the value of a piece of silver.

Check the online catalogs and auctions for silver pieces similar to the pieces being priced. Replacements, a warehouse of collectible silver and china, has an extensive online catalog that is a excellent basic guide. Online auctions such as e-Bay, provide a snapshot of the silver collectible market. They provide a good picture of the types of pieces collectors are buying and the prices they are willing to pay. Price any silver according to the market it will be sold in.

About the Author

Laura Scott has been reporting for Gatehouse Media New England, Essex County Newspapers and other regional publishers since 1997. She won several New England Press Association awards for her coverage of the fishing industry and coastal communities. Scott is a graduate of Vassar College and has a master's degree in American studies from Boston College. She also attended art school in Italy.