Once upon a time, setting a table was much more complicated than it is today. Each place setting contained multiple pieces, while every kind of dish had its own server. Today, these fine serving pieces are highly collectible. Often ornate and made of silver or silver plate, serving ware is sought for its beauty and worth more than for its function. To find the value of silver serving ware, you must start by researching the use and background of your piece, and then use books, the Internet or an expert to come up with a fair market value.
Examine your piece for clues to its composition and maker. The more you know about your serving ware, the easier it will be to research its value. Look on the underside for a maker’s mark. This lets you know the manufacturer of your silver. Does your piece have a hallmark? The hallmark indicates the purity of the silver in the piece. It may also indicate the country of manufacture and the year the serving piece was made. Use an Internet silver markings guide such as the Online Encyclopedia of Silver Marks, Hallmarks & Makers’ Marks to help you understand the markings you find.
Understand the purpose of your piece. To properly research the value of your specific serving piece you need to know how it was used. Many vintage serving pieces are still recognizable today, such as pie servers, large serving forks and spoons, or ladles. However, you might not be familiar with a sugar sifter, a tomato server or a lettuce fork. Resources such as “The Victorian Dining Room,” by Brian D. Coleman, or the “Silver Flatware Dictionary,” by Richard Osterberg and Betty Smith, can help you identify the more obscure pieces of serving ware.
Find silverware price books. Make a visit to a local library or bookstore to find silver price guides. If you have been able to identify the maker of your serving pieces, look for a book specifically for that manufacturer. If you have been unable to identify the silver maker, look through books that include many manufacturers and try to match your piece to what you find. Two general silver collecting guidebooks are “Warman's Sterling Silver Flatware: Value & Identification Guide” by Phil Dreis and “Understanding Antique Silver Plate” by Stephen J. Helliwell.
Check the marketplace. Find out what has been paid for the same or similar pieces. Start with a search of completed auctions on eBay to see the realized prices for various pieces. Another resource is the Internet site WorthPoint. This site gives completed auction prices from several sources, as well as prices achieved by online antiques stores.
Get a professional appraisal. If you need a valuation for insurance purposes, hire an expert to appraise your serving ware. Contact the American Society of Appraisers or the International Society of Appraisers to find local professionals with experience in silver appraisal.