Silver always does sterling work in the sale rooms

Lets Talk Magazine, Post on 25th October, 2016
Antiques LT Nov 2016

If you’re planning a trip to the salerooms, here is some advice on what to look for from Roy Murphy of Keys:

Antiques LT Nov 2016

In this issue I am focussing on silver and silver plate. Over the last 12 months the spot price of pure silver has doubled and currently stands at around £11.50 per ounce (or 46p per gram).
Some of the rise can be put down to the Brexit decision, which has put uncertainty into the economic situation. In such times we usually see a spike in precious metal prices. This is because the holding of gold, silver and platinum is seen as ‘safe’ in troubled times. When we look at English silver, this is 925 parts out of 1,000 pure (known as sterling silver). The other metal that makes up the other 75 parts is usually copper. Some other countries use a lower standard which, in some cases, can be no more than 700 parts pure silver in much of the Middle East and 850 parts in areas of mainland Europe.
Hallmarks are our guarantee of quality (fineness). The mark that is present on all British silver is the “lion passant” (walking lion). This is an easy way of checking at home if you have solid silver or EPNS (electro plated nickel silver). For the layman it can still be difficult to differentiate between silver and plate marks.
There is much useful information available on the Internet. Try for a good starting point.
In my travels around the county and beyond carrying out valuations, I often encounter drawers full of mixed metal wares including solid silver and silver plate, and this article covers items that I might typically encounter.

Group of silver plated wares
Here we have selection of plated cutlery (or to be more correct, flatwares). Cutlery, strictly speaking, refers to cutting implements, but in modern usage has also come to mean forks and spoons. The items pictured here are mainly to do with the serving and eating of fish. There are some knives and forks with bone handles (not good in dishwashers) with pointed ends to the knife blades and matching forks. There are also some matching servers shown just above.
Near the top is a crumbs scoop with an engraved high sided blade and horn handle. Also, just visible are the prongs of a bread fork. This was for holding an uncut loaf in place on a wooden bread board. Above this is a fish slice with pierced blade which allows the juice to pass through. So, quite an interesting, but not valuable group of plated flatwares. The demand today, as you might imagine, for specialist items like these, is slight. The whole collection pictured and some more besides, would probably be bought at auction for less than £20.

Antiques LT Nov 2016

Two silver cigarette cases
I have read recently that the number of adults smoking in the UK has fallen dramatically, whereas, when these two cigarette cases were made in the 1920s, nearly 50% of all adult males were smokers. As smoking became widespread in the first and second quarters of the 20th century, so smoking accessories became popular too. In the early 20th century, vestas (match cases) were in demand but became mostly redundant with the advent of safety matches that needed a specially prepared surface to light them against. The poshest cases, however, were reserved for the cigarettes themselves and to a lesser degree, cigars.
The rectangular case on the left measures 4½” x 3” (11x8cms) and would hold 20 cigarettes. It was hallmarked in Birmingham in 1936. The smaller case (to hold 10 cigarettes) was hallmarked also in Birmingham a few years earlier in 1929. Note how it has a curvature to it, as it was made to fit in a hip pocket. Both are gilded to the inside as silver could taint the cigarettes. Both have engine turned decoration. Although engine turning was available in the 1500s to make repetitive designs onto wood, it was in the 20th century that the process because highly mechanised. The patterns on these are quite simple but some are much more elaborate. For instance, in the Art Deco period, sun-ray engine turning was popular. These two weigh jointly 210gms so from my calculator in the introduction you can work out that the scrap value is around £96 for the two, so check the drawers of your sideboard now.

Antiques LT Nov 2016

Bon-bon dishes and coasters
In the article about the cigarette cases, I noted the use of mechanisation in the production of silver wares. The four small bon-bon dishes pictured here, although looking quite elaborate in design, are in fact quite cheaply made. The process used involves the stamping of a design out on a press into a thin sheet of silver. Finishing off is completed by hand. They would have been sold for a few shillings each at the end of the 19th century. Each has a floral and ribbon tie embossed edge with pierced detail and plain polished centres. They measure 3” (7.6cm) x 3” (7.6cm) and are of heart shape, and are always popular. Also in the picture is a small circular coaster with a gadrooned (conjoined curves) edge and plain circular polished centre. The bon-bon dishes were hallmarked in Birmingham and Chester in 1895/1896. The coaster was made much later and hallmarked in Birmingham in 1960. otal weight for the four is 115gms. Small dishes like this are popular at auction and this group, although not of heavy quality, would sell for around £70 to £80.

Selection of silver spoons
Here are a small collection of hallmarked silver spoons (I have also shown the marks for the two pairs of spoons). As well as being old, they are interesting because they were assayed in the main Irish Assay Office of Dublin. The spoon on the left is a caddy spoon. It dates from 1827, a time when tea was still very expensive and found only in the homes of the well to do. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century when tea was being imported from India as well as China that it became a little more affordable. So, tea at this earlier time was kept in locked wooden tea caddies and typically was dispensed with a silver caddy spoon. This example is in Fiddle pattern. The other two pairs of tea spoons are again Irish in origin. The two Fiddle pattern examples were assayed in Dublin in 1846. They bear a family crest to the handles. The hallmarks on the top spoon in the picture shows the date letter ‘A’ of 1846. The maker’s mark is that of James Lebas. The other marks are the Queen’s head (which shows that duty was paid to the British Government), the figure of Hibernia (Latin name for Ireland and also symbol of the City of Dublin) and the ‘harp crowned’. This shows it is made of sterling silver. The marks on the other pair, which are in pointed Old English pattern are less clear and part rubbed. They date, from the style, from around 1780. Auction value for the group is around £50.

Antiques LT Nov 2016

Two silver photo frames
We have had photography in our lives (or at least in our ancestor’s lives) from the 1820s. It was not until the 1840s, through a process invented by William Fox Talbot, that it became more mainstream, and indeed, not until the end of the 19th century before becoming common-place. By the Edwardian period (1901-1910), it became very fashionable to have photographic images of loved ones mounted into silver frames that were then placed on the mantel-shelf or piano for instance. Some frames were made to hang on a wall, but most had a simple easel back for standing. The actual amount of silver that was used in the production of these frames was small. Like the bon-bon dishes, the silver mounts were punched out on a machine and applied to a wooden frame with small pins. Plaster was applied to the reliefs to add strength and depth to the design. The backs were also made of wood, sometimes velvet covered, and removable at the back to assist with adding or changing a photograph. The designs to the silver work were mainly of an abstract, often classical, theme. Those commanding the most at auction are those embossed with Art Nouveau designs or specialist sporting subjects such as golf or tennis. The premium on these can easily be 10 to 20 times the value of an ordinary example. he frame on the left of the picture is of shaped rectangular form. It has a floral edge with reed and tie detail. It bears a Birmingham hallmark for 1909. The measurements are 7¾”x5½” (20x14cm). The smaller frame measures 3¾x3½ (9.5x9cm) and is decorated in similar style. Both have plush blue velvet easel backs. Although they only include a small amount of silver in the making, they are popular at auction and would sell for around £70 to £90 for the two.

ROY MURPHY is the Fine Art Partner at Keys Fine Art Auctioneers. Roy has been in the Fine Art World with Keys since 1970 and carried out valuations for probate, insurance and sales. If you’d like Roy to give your antiques the benefit of his expert eye, please send a description and as good a photograph as you can to: Antiques, Let’s Talk magazine, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, Norfolk, NR1 1RE.
Please send us photographs that are of good quality or Roy will be unable to offer advice. Make sure they are sharp and clear; take them in good light, outside if necessary. Send your email questions to and type “Antiques” in the subject line. Again ensure that digital photographs are as clear
as possible and in high resolution.

Lets Talk Magazine (writer)

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