There are hallmarks of adulthood: voting, getting a job, and moving out of your parents’ home are three that come to mind. But once you’ve passed those milestones, you start to find more specific, quirky things that make you say, “yep! I’m really a grown up now!” One of those is owning a full set of silverware. I’m not talking about the 4 setting stainless steel Walmart special, I’m talking about real sterling silverware!
If you’re fortunate, perhaps you’ll inherit a set from your family. If not, no worries! Most antique stores will have a set or two kicking around for a reasonable price, and, fortunately, good silverware lasts forever if it’s cared for! Here are some things to keep in mind when purchasing secondhand silverware:
- Be sure it’s really sterling silverware! Sterling silver will be labeled as such. You should see a stamp, usually on the back of the handle, that says “sterling,” “ster,” or even “925” (the amount of silver per 1000). There are also different emblems stamped on the pieces that can indicate true sterling silver. Some older pieces have a signature trademark. You can bookmark 625-1000.com on your phone and refer to it as shopping. This invaluable website is an online encyclopedia of markings you’ll find on silver.
- Another way to tell if it’s real silver is to test with a magnet. A magnet will stick to a silver-plated item, but will not stick to sterling silver.
- Don’t be scared of a little tarnish, but beware of VERY tarnished pieces! Tarnish is to silverware as rust is to iron or steel – it is corrosion. While you can polish the tarnish off, heavy tarnish will require such significant polishing that it could thin and damage the silver to the point of breaking.
- Don’t be afraid of purchasing an incomplete set. There are many silverware matching services available! You can likely find the pieces you need to complete your set.
- If you are treasure-hunting silverware with the intent to sell, keep in mind that silverware value varies greatly depending on who made it, when, what the pattern is, and more. For example, pre-Civil War southern American made silverware is typically very valuable, even though it is usually made from “coin silver,” meaning it contains 900 parts silver, unlike sterling, which is 925 or 95. This is because it’s quite rare, due to the looting that went on during the war.
- If you’re not purchasing it to sell, be sure it’s something you’ll use! The best way to care for your silverware is to use it. Don’t put it away for special occasions. Use, and gentle cleaning with water and a gentle dish soap is sufficient to keep the tarnish away.
Now that you know what you’re looking for, you can keep your eye out for other genuine silver pieces. Teapots, serving trays, bowls, even makeup cases can be very valuable and have frequently been found for mere dollars at a thrift store. A little sleuthing can lead to a big score!