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Sunday, December 21, 2008

What's in Sterling Besides Silver?

We've mentioned this topic briefly a couple of times in other posts but since we have had some questions lately on the topic, here's a summary.

By definition, "sterling" contains 92.5% pure silver. The other 7.5% is made up of some alloy. Why is it not 100% silver? Because the piece would be too soft to use - the alloy adds strength.

The most common alloy is copper. Other metals may be used such as platinum, zinc and germanium but copper remains most popular. Silicon and boron may be used as additives.

The reason other formulas are being tried is to reduce the effects of tarnish and other problems. It's primarily the copper that is reacting with oxygen and sulfur to cause tarnish, not the silver. You may see some advertising in this regard by some manufacturers.

By clicking on "Comments/Questions" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions and comments.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Giving Used Sterling Flatware - Redux

See our earlier post, "Is Used Sterling Flatware a Proper Gift?"

Now that the holiday buying season is almost behind us, we thought our experience this season might be interesting to you. Based upon communications with customers who purchased sterling flatware from us since September 2008, there are many people who agree with us that giving a used piece of sterling flatware in good condition is just fine. We sold everything from single teaspoons to four-piece place settings to large serving pieces.

Most were for gifts. How do we know? Because we received messages like "must receive by Christmas", "must be in top notch condition", "must be of this length because it fits the set of the person to whom I am giving this piece",...

So, re-read the original article and give!

By clicking on "Comments/Questions" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions/comments.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sterling Identification Guide Book

A reader of this blog left a comment attached to the previous post. We felt it deserved major attention so we have repeated the reader's request below.

I am looking for a sterling identification/guide book which is heavy on commentary, such as the characteristics of particular patterns -i.e. This pattern is unusually heavy, the detail is deeply carved and so looks less machined manufactured, etc. It seems that most guide books focus solely on pattern identification. Also, it would be nice if there were a book which discussed "old" versus "new" marks for the manufacturers and the implications of such. Any thoughts on the existence of such a sterling flatware guide? Thank you. A reader.

If you have some ideas, add your comment or send us an email. We'll do some research ourselves.

By clicking on "Comments/Questions" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions and comments.

Monday, December 15, 2008

French Blade Knives

We've received several questions lately regarding French blade knives. So, it's worth adding a bit more discussion regarding this subject. First, read our very first post, "About Knives". We've copied a picture from that first article and posted it below.

The knife in the middle is the most common knife blade in use today. It's often called the "modern hollow knife" and may be available in three or more sizes for a particular pattern (e.g., "Luncheon", "Place", "Dinner", etc.).

The knife on the bottom has a French blade. It also may available in three or more sizes. This blade shape is older. French blade knives:

  • Are not steak knives
  • Are not necessarily sharper that other knives
  • Simply have a different shape blade

Most of the time, a set of sterling flatware will include either modern hollow knives or French blade knives but not both. Some people own sets with both shapes included but it's not very common. It's a matter of preference for one shape or the other. Or, it might be that a person inherited a set with a particular blade shape and they have stuck with it.

If you are starting a brand new set, select one blade shape or the other. If you have no preference, we recommend you select the modern blade.

If you are adding to an existing set, the decision may have been made for you.

If you are buying knives as a gift for someone, investigate a bit to determine the proper blade shape and length so you will match what they have already.

Click on any picture to see a larger version. By clicking on "Comments/Questions" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions/comments.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

What's the Purpose of the Butter Knife Notch?

What's the purpose of the notch in some master butter knives? Click on the picture below to see a larger version in which you can see the notch on the top of the blade better.

To be frank, we have no idea! We have heard some reasons:
  • It's to help keep the knife from sliding off the butter plate (how would this work?)
  • It's just decorative
  • It's related somehow to fish knives

We've posted this question in the hope that it will generate comments from readers to help enlighten us!

Click on any picture to see a larger version. By clicking on "Comments/Questions" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions/comments.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

What's a Fair Price to Pay?

We all like bargains. When we buy something at what we consider to be below market price, it makes us feel good! We're one up on the world!

So, when we go shopping for sterling silver flatware, we hunt and hunt for the best deal. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this and, unless we're driving around hunting, it doesn't cost us anything. I recommend a more analytical approach. Before shopping around, I recommend developing a price at which you will feel like you have received proper value for the money you spend.

First, define what you're looking for, especially with respect to condition.
  • Do you want something that is "nearly new" in terms of condition or are you willing to live with abrasions and nicks from years of use?

  • Will the piece be a gift or for your personal use?

  • If it's for personal use, what's the condition of the pieces you already own?

Then, you might investigate the retail price at department stores or other retail sellers. In your mind, what percentage of the retail price would constitute a reasonable price for a used piece?

After you've considered these points, start your search. For this article, we performed a test search for a very popular piece, a Gorham Chantilly place fork. We made sure the seller indicated that the fork had the "diamond-P" hallmark on the back to so we knew we were comparing apples-to-apples.

This hallmark is Gorham's indicator for "place" size. Here's what we found:

  • The retail price in December 2008 appears to be $115.00. We verified this at several seller web sites on the Internet, including department stores.

  • We checked the web sites of three popular, reliable sellers of used sterling flatware. We have found that they can be depended upon to sell only "excellent condition" used pieces. These are the prices we found-
    - Seller 1 (very large mail order seller) - $49.99
    - Seller 2 (large mail order seller) - $51.00
    - Seller 3 (smaller mail order seller that also has a shop in a major city) - $59.00
    The average price of these three was $53.33 or 46% of the retail price

  • We checked eBay and found actual completed sales st these prices:
    - $38.95
    - $33.99
    - $32.00
    - $25.00
    The description of the cheapest fork indicated more wear so we dropped it from consideration. The average price of the remaining three forks was $34.98 or 30% of the retail price. The fork that sold for $32.00 was sold via the eBay "auction" format whereas the other two were sold via the "Buy It Now" format. The seller of the $32.00 fork had an eBay feedback rating below 100 whereas the other two sellers had very high feedback ratings.

Based upon this cursory research, a reasonable target price to set for a used piece in excellent condition would be between 30% and 50% of the retail price. Expect to pay toward the higher end to a seller with a very good reputation and an acceptable return policy. If you are willing to settle for a piece in less than excellent condition, a target of 20% to 25% of the retail price is probably appropriate.

Click on any picture to see a larger version. By clicking on "Comments/Questions" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions/comments.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

About Tablespoons

The tablespoon is one of the most useful serving pieces in a collection. Most patterns have at least two versions of this spoon, generally slightly longer than eight inches. The picture below illustrates the most common type, simply called "tablespoon".

The picture below illustrates a popular variation called the "pierced tablespoon". You may also see this referred to as a "slotted spoon".

Unfortunately, other pieces frequently are misidentified as tablespoons. A common example is the oval soup spoon.

We think a set should contain several tablespoons of both varieties. Special meals such as Thanksgiving dinner will require many serving pieces; tablespoons will prove to be the most versatile. If you are looking for used tablespoons on sites like eBay, here are some pointers:
  • In addition to searching for "tablespoon", try also "serving spoon" and "table spoon".
  • When searching for a "pierced tablespoon", try also "pierced spoon", "slotted spoon" and "slotted tablespoon".
  • Check the length of an advertised piece to make sure it is identified correctly. If the length is not listed, contact the seller.

Click on any picture to see a larger version. By clicking on "Comments/Questions" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions/comments.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Who Owns Gorham Company?

The Gorham Company was founded in 1831. Producing very popular popular patterns like Chantilly, Buttercup and Strasbourg, Gorham has a proud history. However, during the past 25 years, the company has seen some major changes.
  • The conglomerate, Textron, acquired Gorham in 1982.
  • Ownership passed to Dansk International Designs in 1989.
  • In 1991, Brown-Forman (known more for distilled spirits) bought Gorham and folded the company into the Lenox division.
  • Department 56 bought the Lenox division in 2006.

Occasionally, you will see negative comments regarding the degradation of quality since the purchase by Brown-Forman. We are not experts in this subject and will not attempt to verify or deny these implications. However, we invite comments from visitors to this blog who might have more information.

By clicking on "Comments/Questions" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions and comments.

Monday, November 24, 2008

What About Monograms?

Monograms and other custom engraving add a personal touch to a set of sterling flatware. The most common type of monogram seems to be a single letter engraved on the top side of the handle near the tip. Sometimes, you might see three initials in a group. You may find the monogram on the bottom of the handle instead of the top.

Some custom engraving may relate to a significant event. For example, you might see a date or some word relating to the event. These are often on the bottom of the handle.

Custom engraving may add to the personal and sentimental value of a set as far as the owner of the set is concerned. The only problem arises if the set is ever put up for sale. Monograms cause the secondary market value to be reduced significantly. We don't have a hard and fast rule but we generally target one-half the value of comparable pieces without monograms.

So, if you are looking to buy pieces, you can get some great values if you don't mind the monograms. Or, better yet, if you run across pieces with monograms that normally would be yours, that's great!

Sometimes you find the name of the original retailer imprinted on the bottom side of the handle. The letters are typically so small, you need a magnifying glass to read them. We don't consider these to be monograms and they should not affect negatively the value of a piece. In fact they might increase the value because pieces like this probably are very old.

By clicking on "Comments/Questions" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions/comments.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Suggest a Topic

This is a reminder that visitors to this blog are welcome to suggest questions or topics to review. Simply click on View My Complete Profile under the heading About Us in the right sidebar on the screen. Then, click on Email and send us your suggestion. Or, you may post a comment to this post by clicking on Comments/Questions just below this post.

Also, take note that we've added a Frequently Asked Questions section at the very bottom of the screen. If you are unsure how to proceed, look there.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Professional Polishing

We receive enough questions about this topic that it deserves its own post. The typical questions are worded, "Do you professionally polish the pieces you sell?", "Do you know someone who professionally polishes silver?", or "Will you professionally polish my silver?"

I'm not sure what the term, "professional polishing", means. I assume most people mean a process that will make a piece look as close to brand new as possible. If that's the case, we do not do this. We've alluded to the following reason in other posts regarding care and cleaning.

Over time, sterling flatware pieces that are cared for properly will develop a rich patina caused by a combination of microscopic abrasions, tarnish and rubbing during hand cleaning. In addition, intricate patterns will develop darker areas, known as "French gray", within the pattern that many owners think enhances the pattern. Both the patina and the French gray are considered positive things by most sterling flatware owners. If we "professionally polish" to make a piece look like new, the patina and French gray will be lost.

Having said that, I must state that we do polish many pieces we sell. If a piece just doesn't look right, we polish enough to restore it to the best possible condition. But we don't just polish for the sake of polishing.

So, perhaps the question should be, "Why do you want the pieces to be professionally polished?" There are probably good and valid reasons but we should always ask ourselves, "Would careful personal hand-polishing, taking care to preserve the richness of the finish, be better?"

By clicking on "Comments" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions/comments.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Salad Serving Sets - Alternative?

Many patterns now include salad serving sets that are wooden or plastic on the "business" end with sterling handles. Not everyone likes the look of these.

Salad serving pieces manufactured years ago were solid sterling in many patterns. These are still available, at least on the secondary market. We have seen used sets sell in the range of $125 to $200 (fork and spoon).

We have read proposals from industry sources that suggested using substitute pieces for salad serving - a solid tablespoon paired with a pierced tablespoon, such as the pair shown below.

We think this is a good idea. These pieces are typically just over 8 inches long and will do nicely. We welcome comments from others about this.

Click on any picture to see a larger version. By clicking on "Comments" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions/comments.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Mystery Piece Number 2

Gwen, a visitor to this blog, sent in our second mystery piece. Here are her pictures, followed by a description.

Here is a summary of Gwen's description:

On the bottom, it is stamped #1062, Gorham Mfg Co., and sterling. The hallmark is very small, and even with a magnifying glass, and looking at Gorham hallmarks on the Internet, I'm unable to find a similar hallmark.

I'm pretty sure it belonged to my grandmother, who was born in 1881, and was handed down to my mother, who was born in 1918, and I received it after my mother passed away, in 2001.

I've searched all over the Internet, trying to identify the pattern, but it doesn't appear anywhere that I've looked. The design on each scalloped edge has a bow
in-between each scallop, and what appears to be (maybe) an acorn in the middle of each scallop.

Weight is 1 lb. 2.50 oz. It is 5" tall and 9 1/2" at it's widest, from the edge of one scallop, to the edge of the one across from it.

This is a tough one. I do know that Gorham has used numbers etched on the bottom of pieces to identify patterns of some pieces but that's about all I can help with. Can anyone out there help Gwen identify this pattern? Please post a comment or send us an email by clicking on View My Complete Profile in the right column.

Click on any picture to see a larger version. By clicking on "Comments" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions/comments.

Oh, No! Brown Spots On My New Flatware!

If you ask me about brown spots on your new sterling flatware pieces, the first thing I will ask you is, "Did you wash them in a dishwasher?"

As we've stated earlier, sterling is 92.5% silver and 7.5% something else, often copper. If you wash your new sterling in a dishwasher, water droplets may form on the surface of your pieces. As the pieces dry, the water reacts with the copper and forms brown spots.

After repeated use and washings, the copper on the surface of the pieces gradually wears away, leaving a pure silver surface. The problem will be eliminated. Here are some ways to avoid the problem to begin with, any one of which should work.
  • Wash your flatware by hand for at least the first ten times you use it.
  • Use a wetting agent in your dishwasher.
  • Remove the sterling pieces before the dishwasher drying cycle begins, then hand dry.

Of course, we prefer never to use a dishwasher to wash sterling flatware. See our earlier post, Washing Sterling Flatware in a Dishwasher.

By clicking on "Comments" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions/comments.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Setting the Table

We thought about taking pictures or drawing diagrams to illustrate the proper way to position sterling flatware for a single place setting. But, we found several sites that provide this already - here are links to some.

These are just a few of the sites you will find if you do your own search with a search engine such as Google.

We thought the Bright Settings site was unusual and interesting. It provides an interactive list of 11 items such as soup, salad, dessert, coffee, wine, etc. You check the ones you plan to serve and the site will illustrate the proper setting of flatware, china and glassware, including only the pieces you need. The expanded Bright Settings site also provides hints about other function planning issues.

One further note is worth mentioning - the sites are not consistent. For example, some sites place the dessert spoon above the plate while others have it beside the plate. So, look at these sites as suggestions but do what works best for you and your guests.

By clicking on "Comments" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions/comments.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

About Soup Spoons

Soup spoons are fairly straightforward in most patterns. The key points to be concerned with are:
  • Bowl shape
  • Length

We think the most versatile soup spoon is one that has an oval shape bowl like the one in the picture below.
Many patterns include oval bowl spoons like this in at least two different lengths. Most will be about 7 inches long plus or minus 1/4 inch. One of the lengths may be designated as a "place" soup spoon. This type spoon may also be designated as a "soup/dessert" spoon. Sometimes, you will see this spoon designated as a "tablespoon" or "serving spoon". We think these are incorrect designations.

Another bowl shape for soup spoons is round The cream soup spoon in the picture below is an example.These spoons generally have one of these designations:

  • Bouillon (around 5 1/4 inches long)
  • Cream soup (around 6 1/4 inches long)
  • Gumbo (around 6 3/4 inches long)

Each pattern will have its own specific lengths but they will be in the ballpark of our estimates.

Sellers do not always describe these spoons accurately so make sure you understand the bowl shape and the length. If you do, you'll probably buy the right spoon.

Click on any picture to see a larger version. By clicking on "Comments" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions/comments.

Monday, November 17, 2008

eBay: Restrictions on Sellers

In the fall of 2008, eBay made several changes that greatly affected the way sellers do business. We've already talked about the fact that eBay is forcing electronic payment for purchases with the goal of eliminating paper methods such as checks and money orders. Some visitors to this blog have added comments discussing their concern about this new rule.

Here are some other things eBay is doing.

  1. Shipping charges - eBay is encouraging (and forcing in some cases) sellers to keep shipping costs to a minimum. Extra incentives have been added through the end of 2008 for sellers if free shipping is offered. Sellers are supposed to define exactly what shipping charges will be up front.
  2. Descriptions - eBay is encouraging more complete and accurate descriptions of items.
  3. Return policy - eBay is requiring sellers to define a return policy. Sellers are not forced to accept returns but they must state their policy.
  4. New eBay fee structures give sellers more incentive to consider using the fixed-price ("Buy It Now") format as opposed to the auction format.
  5. Detailed Seller Rating (DSR) - eBay is placing much greater weight on the DSR ratings that buyers assign to sellers through the feedback process. The four DSR categories are:

    - Item as described
    - Communication
    - Shipping time
    - Shipping and handling charges

    A buyer may assign a score between 1 and 5 (with 5 being best) in each of the four categories for each eBay transaction. This is so important to a seller that we ask buyers to let us know why if we did not earn a score of 5 in each category. We're not trying to intimidate buyers but we need to know what we did wrong so we can do better next time. eBay only gives sellers their overall average score and does not give any reasons to the sellers. 5's are very important! Multiple buyers assigning ratings below 5 can have a severe impact on a seller.

As a footnote to this discussion, buyers should be aware that eBay and PayPal charge fairly significant fees to sellers. Several parameters affect the ultimate fee. Taken together, eBay and PayPal fees top out at around 16% of the sales price for an item sold on eBay and paid for through PayPal. This includes fees not directly related to a sale.

By clicking on "Comments" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions/comments.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Is it for Salad, Dessert, Fish, Pastry...?

Look at the picture below. What is it?

  • Salad fork?
  • Dessert fork?
  • Fish fork?
  • Pastry fork?

The reason we ask the question is because we have seen forks like this listed as all the above descriptive names by sellers in their ads!

I think most of us agree that this is a salad fork (see our earlier post, About Forks). So why is it called by the other names? We think it could be one of these reasons:

  • The seller is too lazy to look it up
  • The seller is trying to get a better price by calling it something more exotic
  • The seller is trying to broaden the market for the item by giving it multiple uses (e.g., "This is a salad/fish/dessert fork...")

Many sterling flatware patterns include unique fish forks that may vaguely resemble a salad fork but generally are quite different. Many patterns also include pastry forks that also look different. So, to call this a fish fork or pastry fork is incorrect, we believe.

Now that brings us to dessert forks. We would like to receive comments about this because we are having trouble coming up with an example of a piece identified by the manufacturer as a "dessert fork". It is true that many people use salad forks when serving certain types of desserts. So, perhaps it is OK to use "dessert" as an alternate name for this piece. What do you think?

If you are looking for pieces with the names included in this post, make sure you have a picture and precise measurements for reference before you buy.

Let us hear from you about this.

Click on any picture to see a larger version. By clicking on "Comments" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions/comments.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

eBay: Using PayPal

The folks at eBay created quite a stir in October of 2008 when they dictated that buyers must pay for goods via electronic means using a credit card or a payment service like PayPal. Since PayPal is owned by eBay, a competing service, ProPay, is also allowed to process payments. eBay more or less had to allow a competitor to do this in order to avoid anti-competitive practice issues.

PayPal's preferred way of moving money around is to move it from or to someone's bank account. This is the way we operate and we have had no problems. We have heard of complaints from other sellers but do not know the details. PayPal also allows a buyer to use a credit card to pay for a purchase.

Some people do not like sharing personal credit or checking information on the Internet. Here are a couple of suggestions for eBay buyers in this category:
  • A buyer might use a prepaid credit card. Such a card limits the buyer's exposure to the amount prepaid and does not affect the buyer's credit score.
  • A buyer might insist on paying the old fashioned way by check or money order. We can't speak for eBay but we understand that if a buyer insists on paying by check or money order, the seller is allowed by eBay to accept it. A buyer should check with the seller about this before buying.

PayPal does have added benefits in that it offers some degree of protection for the buyer and seller. Sellers pay a fee to PayPal of roughly 3% of a transaction's total amount.

By clicking on "Comments" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions/comments.

Friday, November 14, 2008

eBay: Searching Tip

If you are buying on eBay, you might want to consider this - sellers often make mistakes in spelling, especially with regard to certain pattern names. A good example is the Wallace pattern, Grande Baroque. Many sellers forget about the "e" at the end of the word, "Grande". To work around this, you might do two searches with these search terms:

  • Wallace Grand Baroque sterling

  • Wallace Grande Baroque sterling
Or, you might take an easier, quicker approach. The following search terms will search for both spellings:
  • Wallace (Grand, Grande) Baroque sterling
The eBay search engine will understand that you are looking for the "grand" OR "grande" spellings.

Savvy sellers include both spellings in their listings so that their listing will be found even if the searcher spells it "grand". In our Grande Baroque listings, the word "grand" is included in the item description but it is hidden from view. So, it will not be seen but it will be examined during eBay searches.

Other pattern names often mispelled include Rose Point, ("Rosepoint"), Strasbourg ("Strasburg"), Chantilly ("Chantily"), Buttercup ("Butter Cup") and Versailles (many!).

By clicking on "Comments" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions/comments.

Butter Handling Utensils

One would think that butter knives would be fairly standard. Well, strange as it may seem, a single pattern may offer eight or more different styles of butter handling utensils. There are several different characteristics by which to categorize them, starting with:

  • Master butter knife - used to transfer butter from a common serving dish to an individual diner's bread plate. This knife typically will have a sharp point to be used to "spear" a butter pat, I suppose. It is not used to spread butter onto bread.
  • Individual, or place, butter spreader - used to spread butter onto bread. Each place setting will have one of these for use by a single diner. A spreader normally will have a rounded tip.
A utensil's construction defines another way to categorize:
  • Solid or flat-handle - typically means that the utensil is one solid piece, all made of sterling.
  • Hollow-handle - means that the utensil is constructed more like a dinner knife, probably with a sterling handle and a stainless steel blade.

The solid butter utensils could be expected to be a little more expensive than their hollow-handle cousins because the solid pieces typically are all sterling. Their sterling blades may exhibit more abrasions than the stainless steel blades on hollow-handle pieces. The categories above are illustrated in this picture of four Gorham Chantilly utensils. The utensils (from top to bottom) are:

  • Solid (flat-handle) master butter knife
  • Hollow-handle master butter knife
  • Solid (flat-handle) butter spreader
  • Hollow-handle butter spreader

Photo courtesy

Here's a third categorization:
  • With Notch - references the little notch in the blade that you see in the two master butter knives in the above picture.
  • With No Notch - means that there is no notch. Some patterns include both options. The utensils often will look exactly the same except for the notch.

And now for your reading pleasure, a fourth categorization:

  • Modern blade - means that the blade resembles the blade of a modern place knife.
  • Paddle blade - means that the blade has a different, more rounded shape.
  • French blade - may be a variation of the paddle blade.
Below are pictorial examples. The Chantilly butter spreader on the left is a hollow-handle spreader with a modern blade. We call the Chantilly spreader on the right a hollow-handle butter spreader with a paddle blade. However, some might define the blade as a French blade because of the way the sharp edge of the blade leaves the handle (taking a 90 degree turn away from the handle, then another 90 degree turn up the blade edge).

In addition to knives and spreaders, there are butter picks. Below are pictures of two examples. The top butter pick has a single tine while the bottom butter pick has two tines.

Photos courtesy of

So, the bottom line here is to be careful when buying butter utensils to make sure you are getting what you want!

Click on any picture to see a larger version. By clicking on "Comments" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions/comments.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Weighing Silver

In America, our system of weights for most things identifies a pound as being equal to 16 ounces. This is known as the avoirdupois system of weights.

The weight of silver is expressed in the Troy system in which a Troy pound equals 12 Troy ounces. Prices quoted for raw silver refer to Troy ounces. To avoid confusion and misunderstanding, we generally express weight in grams. Here's a conversion chart.
  • One avoirdupois ounce = 28.349523125 grams
  • One Troy ounce = 31.1034768 grams

If you are calculating the weight of silver in a sterling flatware piece, remember that sterling is only 92.5% silver content. It is difficult to calculate the weight of silver in a knife and some serving pieces because part of the piece may be made of something other than sterling, such as a stainless steel blade.

By clicking on "Comments" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions/comments.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Mystery Piece Number 1

We're adding a new feature to the blog with this post. We're calling this series, Mystery Piece.

This series was suggested by an email from a visitor to this blog. The purpose is to help blog visitors identify sterling silver flatware patterns and specific pieces within patterns. We'll depend upon posted comments or emails from other visitors to help with identification.

The first mystery is a Gorham Chantilly fork and was submitted by a visitor on November 11, 2008. The picture below illustrates two forks. The fork on bottom is what we normally consider a luncheon size. It is 7 inches long and is 7/8 inch wide at the base of the tines. The handle at its widest point near the tip is 7/8 inch wide.

The fork on top in the picture is the mystery. It is 6 7/8 inches long and is 15/16 inch wide at the base of the tines. The handle at the widest point near the tip is 13/16 inch wide.

So when compared to the standard luncheon fork, the mystery fork is slightly shorter and slightly narrower at the handle tip, but it is slightly wider at the base of the tines! The mystery fork has the old Gorham hallmarks and it has the original retailer die stamp, J. C. Grogan. So, it must be very old.

Does anyone out there know what the proper nomenclature for this fork is? Or, perhaps, did Gorham make luncheon forks slightly differently one hundred years ago?

If you have any ideas, you have two ways to respond.
  1. You can add a comment by clicking on "Comments" below this post. After review by the blog moderator, it will be posted to the blog.
  2. You can send an email to the moderator by clicking on View My Complete Profile in the column on the right. You will then see an "Email" link. The moderator will summarize your information and add a comment to the blog.

Tell us what you think! If you have your own mystery piece, send us one or more clear photographs via email and describe it. We'll post it soon afterward.

Click on any picture to see a larger version. By clicking on "Comments" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions/comments.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Care & Polishing of Sterling Flatware

Disclaimer: We are providing below information that may be useful to you as you care for your sterling flatware. This information was gleaned from several reliable sources but we make no claim regarding its validity. We assume no responsibility for any damage caused by using the techniques and materials described herein.

We recommend that you gather information from a number of sources before embarking on your own silver maintenance program. "Sterling" silver, by definition, is 92.5 percent pure. An item stamped "sterling" must contain 92.5 percent silver and 7.5 percent copper. When silver is exposed to air, it develops tarnish, or a dark film. If the air has a high sulfur content, the silver will tarnish faster.

The effect of sulfur can be demonstrated easily by eating a boiled egg with a silver fork. If the fork is not washed, the sulfur in the egg will cause the fork to tarnish dramatically within a few hours. Many silver enthusiasts, including us, believe that slight tarnish adds to the patina of a silver piece (See our earlier post, When is Tarnish a Positive Thing?). If a piece has an intricate design, tarnish deep in the pattern helps define the outline and depth of the pattern.

On the other hand, too much tarnish can detract from the beauty of a piece and make it look "dirty". In addition to the natural impact of air on silver, other "enemies" abound. One to watch out for is rubber. It can etch silver so badly that professional repair may be required. (See our earlier post, Avoid Rubber!). Don't store silver anywhere near rubber. Damage can also be caused by salt, olives, salad dressing, vinegar, fruit juices and, of course, eggs. Wash your sterling items as soon as possible after these foods have been served.

There are several methods for cleaning silver. We focus primarily on sterling flatware in this article but the methods may apply to other silver pieces as well. Hand rubbing develops patina on silver which adds to its beauty. Use plastic or cotton gloves when polishing your sterling. Remember, AVOID RUBBER GLOVES.

Routine Sterling Flatware CareSilver is easily scratched so never use harsh abrasives. Using your flatware frequently is a good way of deterring tarnish. After use, wash flatware as soon as possible. If it can't be washed quickly, at least rinse it. Don't let food stand on it.

Wash in warm sudsy water with a phosphate-free detergent. Rinse well and dry immediately. Do not let hollow handled pieces such as knives stand in water. The combination of heat, water, and detergent may loosen soldering. (See our earlier post, Washing Sterling Flatware in a Dishwasher).

Polishing Sterling Flatware
We use two types of commercial products to condition sterling flatware. We are not endorsing the products mentioned; they simply happen to be the ones we have used recently.

Light Duty Conditioning: For sterling flatware that has been well-maintained but has light tarnish or very light abrasions, we use a product like "Merit Silver Polish". Light rubbing with a product like this reconditions the flatware easily. We use this process for our personal flatware.

Heavier Duty Conditioning: For pieces that have heavy tarnish, more abrasions and perhaps some minor blemishes, we use a product like "Wenol Metal Polish". Heavier rubbing may be required to remove the blemishes but they disappear most of the time (See our earlier post, Cleaning: Chemical Dips).

StorageStore flatware in a chest lined with tarnish-resistant flannel. If you don't have a chest, you can use an air-tight plastic bag. Handle flatware with care to avoid nicks and heavy scratches; knife blades and other metals can do damage if they come in contact with sterling flatware.

Keep humidity levels low in your storage area by adding desiccated silica gel to your storage drawer or cabinet. To keep your storage area free of gases known to cause tarnish, add a few capsules or small dish of activated charcoal.

Pre-treat each piece with a tarnish-retardant polish when storing for long periods of time. Specially treated cloth bags or anti-tarnish strips work well, too. When a cloth bag is not an option, you can provide further protection to silver and silver plated items by wrapping your prized pieces separately in plastic cling wrap.

Add a single piece of white chalk to the drawer or cabinet where your silver is stored; white chalk prevents tarnish.

Use your sterling flatware frequently and care for it properly and regularly. It will please your family for generations.

Other Information Sources Regarding Care of SilverSociety of American Silversmiths

By clicking on "Comments" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions/comments.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Shipping Charges

This has nothing directly to do with sterling silver but we get so many questions about the subject, perhaps it's worth a post. We ship almost everything we sell, so shipping is a very important subject to us as well. Following are the most frequent questions we receive and our responses.

Will you combine multiple purchases into a single shipment to reduce shipping cost?
Yes. We do this automatically unless directed otherwise. In fact, we recommend that you plan your purchases ahead of time to take advantage of this. Most sellers offer this form of reduced shipping cost.

Are you making a profit on shipping?
We do not try to make a profit on shipping. Because we generally quote a flat rate for shipping charges, we probably do not hit the shipping charge exactly. However, any gain or loss will be very small - less than 50 cents.

What's included in shipping charges?
We can only speak for ourselves, not for other sellers. Here's what we include:
- Estimated cost for USPS First Class or Priority Mail (if greater than 13 ounces)
- Estimated cost for USPS shipping insurance
- Estimated cost for a strong shipping container (25 to 50 cents usually)

Will you ship via a cheaper method to reduce cost?
The only cheaper method we know of is Parcel Post. The savings are so small, it's not worth it.

Will you allow local pickup?
We will but with the price of gas these days, it may be more cost efficient to pay for shipping.

We've noticed that some sellers seem to charge more than actual shipping costs. We won't criticize them but we will offer some comments regarding reasons for doing this:

  • Some sellers consider "handling" to be a cost to be passed on to the buyer. It does take time to pack items, drive to the Post Office, etc. However, we consider it just part of the cost of doing business and do not try to pass it on.

  • eBay does not charge a commission or fee on shipping charges like they do on the cost of the item being sold. Therefore, a seller might charge lower selling prices and higher shipping charges to avoid eBay fees. Of course, eBay frowns on this practice! FYI, PayPal charges the seller a commission on everything.

  • The seller may just want to make a little extra profit. That should not be a problem for you as long as you factor in shipping costs before buying the item, making sure the total cost is reasonable for you.

Now, we'll turn to a few pet peeves we have with some sellers:

  • Some sellers force the use of Priority Mail even when less expensive First Class would suffice. The reason could be that the Post Office provides free Priority Mail boxes and the seller is too cheap to buy other boxes.

  • Some sellers charge the Priority Mail Flat Rate box rate when standard Priority Mail would be cheaper. For example, a parcel weighing one pound costs $4.80 to ship by Priority Mail. The Priority Mail Flat Rate Box costs $9.80. The seller is either lazy or is planning to make a profit on this somehow.

  • A seller may have several concurrent items up for auction on eBay, each with unusually high shipping charges. I might like to bid on several and hope to win a few that can be combined for shipping. However, I can't depend upon winning multiple items so I have to bid less for each item so I won't get stuck with exorbitant shipping for just one item.

  • Some sellers force the use of UPS or FedEx when USPS might be cheaper.

If you want to know exactly what USPS charges are, visit The total amount will be influenced by:

  • Weight

  • Amount of insurance

  • First Class vs. Priority Mail

  • Distance (for Priority Mail over one pound)

You might ask, "What's a typical actual shipping cost?" Based on our experience, two or three dinner forks shipped together with total value of $100 will often cost between $4.00 and $5.00. Knives generally are a little higher because they are heavier. Once the parcel exceeds 13 ounces, First Class is no longer an option and Priority Mail will cause the cost to jump.

By clicking on "Comments" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions/comments.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

eBay: Negotiating Price

Is it possible to negotiate price with eBay sellers? The answer generally is, "No", but it depends upon the seller.

Auction Items
For eBay auction items that sell, negotiating doesn't make sense because the auction process itself is the price negotiation. However, sometimes auction items don't sell because they receive no bids or the bids don't reach the seller's reserve price.

In situations like this, we have on occasion sent a message to the seller after the auction closed stating that we were interested in the item but not at the minimum bid or reserve established by the seller. An interested seller could re-list the item on eBay with lower price considerations in such a case. We have run across interested sellers and some have re-listed. However, we never have been successful with convincing a seller to re-list at a minimum bid or reserve price suitable to us.

Fixed-Price Items with "Make an Offer" Option
Fixed-price items are identified with a "Buy it Now" price. For items like this, the seller has the option of including a "Make an Offer" button in the listing. Most fixed-price items do not include this button but if the seller has activated it, a potential buyer is being invited to negotiate. The seller is more or less expecting to sell the item at a price less than what's posted.

When you click on "Make an Offer", eBay will ask that you confirm your offer price. Be aware that once you confirm, you are obligated to buy if the seller accepts your offer. If multiple pieces are offered in a single eBay listing, eBay will also ask you to state the number of pieces covered by your offer.

When you make an offer, eBay sends the seller a message with the details of your offer. The seller may:

  • Accept your offer, thereby obligating you to buy

  • Reject your offer outright

  • Reject your offer but propose a counteroffer

This back and forth process can go on for a maximum of three offers by a potential buyer for a given eBay item.We don't have a particular "rule of thumb" regarding how much your offer should be as a percentage of asking price. Offer what you think is a fair price. Some sellers get upset when someone submits a "low ball" offer. We don't get upset because we know the bidder only has three chances. However, you should keep in mind that a seller is looking for the best offer. An offer is allowed by eBay to be valid for 48 hours so a seller may accumulate more than one offer, then select the best one.

Fixed-Price Items without "Make an Offer" Option
Most fixed-price listings fall within this category. Generally speaking, the seller probably is not willing to negotiate. However, if you want to try, the only way to initiate the process is to send the seller a question. State your proposal and see how the seller responds. Some sellers seem to be bothered by this process. We are not bothered because we always look for opportunities to communicate with potential customers. We see it as an opportunity to convince you why our original price is reasonable!

If a seller agrees with your proposal, the eBay listing probably will need to be modified or a new one created. That's something to be worked out between the you and the seller. Keep in mind that an eBay listing is open to any qualified buyer, so if the seller creates a modified listing with a lower price, anyone can snap it up. Move quickly to buy once a modified listing is created for you.

By clicking on "Comments" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions/comments.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Who Owns Wallace Silversmiths?

Wallace Silversmiths has been a manufacturer of sterling flatware since the first half of the nineteenth century. Producing popular intricate patterns like Grande Baroque and Rose Point, Wallace has a proud history.

However, during the past 50 years, the company has had some topsy-turvy times.
  • Hamilton Watch Company acquired Wallace Silversmiths in 1959

  • Katy Industries acquired Wallace Silversmiths in 1983

  • Syratech Corporation, which also owned Towle Silversmiths, acquired Wallace Silversmiths in 1986

  • After declaring bankruptcy in 2005, Syratech was acquired by Lifetime Brands in 2006

Occasionally, you will see negative comments regarding Wallace items produced since Syratech bought the company. They seem to imply the quality and/or weight of pieces produced under Syratech ownership is less than for earlier produced pieces. We are not experts in this subject and will not attempt to verify or deny these implications. However, we invite comments from visitors to this blog who might have more information.

By clicking on "Comments" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions/comments.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Buying & Selling Sterling Flatware on Craigslist

Craigslist offers another channel for the buying and selling of sterling silver items. For readers who don't know what Craigslist is, here is the Wikipedia definition:

Craigslist is a central network of online communities, featuring free online classified advertisements– with jobs, internships, housing, personals, erotic services, for sale/barter/wanted, services, community, gigs, resume, and pets categories – and forums on various topics.

In other words, it's similar to newspaper classifieds except it is online. We have purchased sterling flatware through "for sale" ads we found on Craigslist and sellers have come to us through "wanted to buy" ads we placed ourselves. Here some nice features of Craigslist:

  • It's free
  • It's simple
  • It provides a level of security; e.g., you can place a "blind" ad
  • Photographs can be included with your ad
  • It provides a search capability so you can locate what you are looking for fairly easily
  • If you know how to use HTML, you can dress up your ad a bit

From our point of view, it does have some limitations:

  • An ad is linked to a single city, thereby limiting coverage
  • Scammers roam Craigslist looking for opportunities to defraud
  • There is no feedback or history mechanism such as eBay provides - you have no way to gauge the trustworthiness of the other party

We think Craigslist provides a worthy opportunity to buy or sell. You just have to be careful.

By clicking on "Comments" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions/comments.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Gorham Hallmarks

After our previous post, we received some emails requesting more information about Gorham hallmarks. We're not experts but we can show some examples.

As we mentioned in the last post, Gorham changed the information it places on pieces. Before 1950, Gorham used symbols to identify forks, spoons and other pieces. The picture below illustrates the three symbols: a lion, an anchor and the letter "G" plus the word, "Sterling". In this example, you also see some patent information on the right. Gorham made minor changes to this format over the years but the basic lion/anchor/G/Sterling combination should always be there. The patent information may not always be there. You may see some sellers use the abbreviation, "LAG", to represent this hallmark pattern.

After 1950, Gorham began to use the words, "Gorham Sterling", for its basic hallmark as illustrated in the picture below. Sometimes, you'll also see the pattern name on teaspoons.

Are pieces with the old marks more valuable? It depends. With all other things being equal, the older pieces probably are a little more valuable. But value is influenced to a much greater degree by the condition of a piece. A newer piece in excellent condition is preferred by many buyers to an older piece with extensive signs of wear.

There are several earlier posts on this blog that discuss markings of various kinds. You should read them in order to have a more complete picture of markings you may find.

Click on any picture to see a larger version. By clicking on "Comments" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions/comments.

Monday, November 3, 2008

What Do "OM" and "NM" Mean?

Often in an eBay listing title, you will see the terms "OM" or "NM" in a listing title. This is what they mean:

  • NM means "no monograms" are found on the piece(s).
  • OM means "old marks". You often see this when an old Gorham piece is being offered. Gorham changed the information it placed on the backs of forks, spoons, etc. in 1950. If a seller places OM in the title, it probably means the Gorham piece(s) being offered were manufactured before 1950 and have the old Gorham hallmarks.

By clicking on "Comments" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions/comments.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

eBay: Auction vs. Fixed-Price Format

If you've been searching for items on eBay, you probably realize that eBay has three basic forms for selling:
  • Auction - This format is the one most people are thinking about when they first use eBay. Auctions run for a maximum of 10 days. The winning bidder is obligated to buy.
  • Fixed-Price - More and more sellers are using the fixed-price format whereby the seller sets a fixed price for the item to be sold.
  • Store - To a buyer, store format looks exactly like fixed-price format. To the seller, there are some differences in the fees charged by eBay. The primary thing affecting a buyer is the way eBay searches for items. Unless you specify otherwise, you may not see "store" items in your search results. On the "Advanced Search" page there is an option to include store inventory in your searches. Fixed-price and store listings run for a maximum of 30 days, although many sellers renew the listings for one or more additional 30-day periods.

Auctions offer the opportunity for bargain prices for some items. However, a bidder must wait until the auction ends to see who is successful. If you have been bidding on items lately, you may have noticed that several bidders may bid in the last five seconds or so. This technique, called "slamming", has become more prevalent lately. If you have lost an item in such a situation, you may have thought that there were several bidders lurking out there, all hitting the "Enter" key to submit their bids simultaneously. However, it is likely that some or all of these last second bidders used one of several services available on the Internet that submit last second bids automatically on behalf of such bidders. Check out for example.

Fixed-price and store items offer the benefit of selecting an item immediately with no waiting. You know what you are going to pay up front and you can "Buy it Now".

Which way is best? It all depends upon your time frame, your patience, your need to find just the right item, your price flexibility, etc. You be the judge.

By clicking on "Comments" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions/comments.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Buying Sterling Flatware on eBay

Disclosure: The reader should take notice that this post contains opinions of the owners of Georgia Silver, a firm that sells many items on eBay. Although every effort has been made to present a fair assessment of the subject, the bias of the authors could affect the discussion.

The creation of eBay opened a single new market in which the forces of supply and demand operate on a worldwide basis. With respect to used sterling flatware, eBay comes closest to setting a true worldwide market price. However, when looking to buy a piece of sterling flatware on eBay, you have to be certain that you are comparing "apples to apples" among the various offered items. For example, the value of a Chantilly teaspoon offered by one seller could be quite different from the value of a Chantilly teaspoon offered by another seller. Here are some points to consider when buying.
  • Condition of the piece - This is probably the most important factor affecting value. A teaspoon offered by one seller might still be in its original wrapper while a teaspoon offered by another seller might have had an unfortunate encounter with a garbage disposal. The description offered by the seller is very important. Clear pictures of the piece(s) being offered should be included in the listing.

    Each seller will have a unique way of describing pieces. There are no exact definitions - one seller might use the word "excellent" only to define something that appears to be brand new while another seller might use the same term to describe a piece that has a few small abrasions and dents from light use.

    If the condition is not clear to you, ask the seller questions.

  • Monograms or other custom engraving - Many sellers will state in the listing whether or not there are monograms on a piece. If not, ask the seller about this specifically.

  • Size - Pieces come in different lengths and weights. Read the earlier posts on this blog, "About Forks" and "About Knives". Make sure you are buying the exact size and shape you need. Length measurements to the nearest 1/8 inch are best. A dinner fork generally has a much higher value than a luncheon fork, for example. If the seller did not provide sufficient details, ask questions. Don't rely on names like "luncheon" and "dinner". These mean different things to different people. Insist on specific measurements.

  • Color - Most sterling flatware is silver in color but a few patterns have optional gold "tinting".

  • Shipping - Most sellers add reasonable shipping charges. Some offer free shipping. Some will include a nominal charge for the shipping container or "handling". However, a few try to make significant extra profit with unreasonably high shipping charges. Make sure you understand what the shipping charges will be and factor these into your overall price consideration. Go to to calculate your own sample shipping charges and compare these with the seller's. Be sure to understand the seller's approach to shipping insurance and factor this into your analysis. If shipping charges are unclear, ask the seller a question.

  • Seller's feedback rating - the feedback rating is very important. You can generally feel more comfortable with a seller who has a large positive number (in the hundreds or thousands) AND whose percentage of positive feedback is 100% or very close to that. Read feedback comments posted by earlier buyers. Every seller has to start somewhere so you may encounter a new legitimate seller with a very low feedback number. In this case, study all details even more carefully.

Keep in mind that an eBay seller has to pay fees to eBay and PayPal. These could total over 15% of the sales price.

This post is a little long so we'll stop here but we'll be adding at least these other posts related to eBay:

  • Auction vs. Fixed-Price Format
  • Negotiating price
  • Using PayPal
  • eBay restrictions on sellers

By clicking on "Comments" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions/comments.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Washing Sterling Flatware in a Dishwasher

Is it safe to wash sterling flatware in the dishwasher? You will find many articles that state it is safe. But, you also see these caveats:
  • Rinse food from the flatware immediately after use and before placing in the dishwasher
  • Never let stainless steel and sterling touch each other - washing separately is preferred
  • Avoid lemon-scented detergents and detergents with chlorides - use a mild detergent
  • Never sprinkle detergent directly on the flatware - pitting could result
  • Use a water softening agent if you have hard water
  • Remove the flatware before the drying cycle - dry by hand with soft cloth

Having said all this, our preference is NOT washing sterling flatware in a dishwasher. Washing by hand with a mild soap immediately after use is our preferred method. See the post below about avoiding rubber gloves.

By clicking on "Comments" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions/comments.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Gorham Hallmark - "P" Inside Diamond Shape

Some people have asked about the mark they see on the backs of some Gorham pieces or on the blades of Gorham knives. The mark is the letter, "P", inside a diamond shape. See the picture below for an example.

This symbol defines the piece as being "Place" size. The place size is generally between the luncheon size and the dinner size pieces in terms of length and/or weight. See the posts below, "About Forks" and "About Knives".

In our opinion, the place size has become an acceptable compromise size. Few of us can afford complete sets that include luncheon pieces and dinner pieces. So, many people have just the place size to serve both purposes.

We would like to hear other opinions about this. Click on "Comments" below to add your thoughts or ask questions.

Click on any picture to see a larger version. By clicking on "Comments" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions/comments.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

How Do I Sell My Sterling Flatware?

First of all, we're going to try to convince you not to sell it. Here's why:

  1. Sterling flatware should be considered a family heirloom to be passed from generation to generation. In today's fast-paced world, we have lost our connections to our family histories. Using inherited sterling flatware on a special occasion will remind us of grandma and how she used to fuss over her flatware. That will trigger further wonderful memories of cherished times past. Your grandchildren deserve the same opportunity.
  2. You will not receive what you think it is worth. For proof of this, contact one or two of the largest providers of replacement sterling flatware and ask for a quote to purchase your sterling. We have seen such quotes and prices frequently are 10 to 20 per cent of the retail price. For example, we recently saw a quote for Gorham Chantilly from a large replacement dealer. They were willing to pay $6.00 for a luncheon knife in excellent condition!

Now, if you still want to sell, how do you do it?

  1. You probably will receive the best price by selling to another individual who will want your flatware for personal use. Start with free advertising options such as Include some nice, closeup pictures of sample pieces you have for sale. Be realistic with your asking price. Trying to get anywhere near retail price is very unrealistic, even if your pieces are unused and still in their original wrappers.
  2. Consider eBay. Be aware that you will have to pay eBay a fee. Also, in October, 2008, eBay changed their rules so that electronic payment such as through PayPal is the only way a seller can receive payment. And, if you don't regularly sell through eBay, you will not have a high feedback score. Buyers are willing to pay more to sellers with high positive scores. Finally, if you use the eBay auction format, you run the risk of receiving a low bid price.
  3. Sell to a dealer who specializes in sterling flatware. You can search the web for such businesses. You can also look for sellers who sell at lot of sterling on eBay. In larger cities, there may be stores who buy sterling flatware. Get quotes from two or three such dealers. Our business, Georgia Silver, is in this category.
  4. Sell to a scrap dealer.
    • In the right column of this blog, enter "selling silver" in the Sterling Silver Web Search box and click the "Search" button.
    • A new window will appear. Click on the ads you see at the top and on the right side of the new window Generally, these ad clicks will take you to people who buy scrap silver.

Here are issues that will affect the price you receive.

  • Condition - Used pieces are expected to have minor scratches and tiny "dings" from use. Anything worse than this will cause the value to fall significantly.
  • Pattern - Some patterns have higher values than others.
  • Specific piece - A fork is worth more than a teaspoon. A dinner fork is worth more than a luncheon fork. Knives often have low values.
  • Set vs. individual pieces - Often a complete set with some serving pieces will bring the highest price on a per piece basis.
  • Rarity - Some patterns, and some pieces within a particular pattern, may be rare. The price could be higher. On the other hand, the pattern may be rare because no one liked it!
  • Monograms or other custom engraving - These will reduce the market value by a substantial amount.

Notice that the current price of raw silver is not on the list. See our earlier post regarding this subject.

One word of warning is appropriate here. If you advertise to sell, you may receive responses from unscrupulous people. Be wary of unusual payment methods and shipping to remote locations unless you can verify the identity of, and trust, the buyer. Bank certified checks can be forged and Western Union payment is a red flag.

Obviously, we may be accused on being biased on this subject since we buy and sell sterling flatware. So, look for advice from other sources to confirm what we have said.

If you have a question or comment, feel free to add a comment to this post or email us. If you click on "View my complete profile" in the sidebar on the right of the screen, you will see an "email" link.

One footnote is appropriate. When we buy sterling, we prefer that the seller NOT attempt to polish it. We prefer to polish it ourselves using our approved methods. See our earlier post regarding tarnish.

See also our post, "Finding Buyers for Your Sterling Flatware".

By clicking on "Comments/Questions" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions and comments. Or, you can send us an email by clicking on "View My Complete Profile" in the right column.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Gorham Weight Marks

We receive many questions regarding the die stamped marks found on the backs of some Gorham pieces. We asked Gorham Customer Service about this. Their reply was, "Up until the 1980's, Gorham sterling was available in different weights:
  • H - Heavy
  • E - Extra Heavy
  • M - Massive
  • R - Regular
  • T - Trade"

Below are pictures of examples - you may want to click on a picture to see a larger version. As you can see, the weight mark may appear in different places.

The first picture also illustrates an example of a retailer stamping the business name on the back. This was common earlier in the last century. In our opinion, these retailer marks do not devalue a piece. In fact, they may add value because they provide an additional indication of the age of the piece. In this example, the piece evidently was sold originally by J. C. Grogan & Co., founded in 1892 in Pittsburgh.

Click on any picture to see a larger version. By clicking on "Comments" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions/comments.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Avoid Rubber!

From time to time, we come across sterling flatware with rubber bands holding a group of pieces together.


Rubber can harm silver. Keep rubber away from yours. Don't even use rubber gloves when cleaning your silver.

By clicking on "Comments" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions/comments.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Cleaning: Chemical Dips

We will post tips regarding cleaning from time to time. This is the first.

There is a type of silver cleaner available that removes tarnish by simply dipping the piece into the liquid cleaner. There are also recipes available for creating your own dip using household utensils and ingredients.

In general, we do not favor these methods. If you have worked over the years to develop a rich patina to your silver and perhaps French gray in the pattern details, the chemical process will undo your hard work. We recommend instead regular hand polishing.

The ONLY time we ever use a chemical dip is when we run across a badly tarnished fork. We may use the dip to help clean the tines since it's difficult to polish between the tines by hand.

By clicking on "Comments" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions/comments.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

About Forks

This is a companion post to our very first post on October 18, 2008, "About Knives". I invite you to read that post before reading this one.

Just as with knives, many sterling flatware patterns include at least three different sizes of "primary" forks. Below is an example of forks in the Buttercup pattern by Gorham, starting at the top:
  • Dinner ............ 7 1/2 inches long
  • Place ............... 7 1/2 inches long
  • Luncheon ....... 7 inches long

You are probably asking yourself, "So, what's the difference between place and dinner forks in this pattern? They are the same length." In the case of Buttercup, there is a difference between the length ratio of handle-to-tines. The dinner fork has longer tines and a shorter handle. Also, the dinner fork is slightly wider at the base of the tines. The result is a more "hefty" feel for the dinner fork.

It should be noted that every pattern is different with respect to this type of fork. Some have three different lengths, some have two, etc. If you are buying a fork, you should verify these size parameters with the seller to make sure the fork matches your need:
  • Overall length
  • Length of tines and handle
  • Width at the base of the tines

Don't judge the size by name alone. Buyers and sellers often are confused about nomenclature.

Salad forks also may come in different sizes. The picture below illustrates salad forks from the Buttercup pattern by Gorham, from top to bottom:

  • Place salad fork ..... 6 3/4 inches long
  • Salad fork ............... 6 3/8 inches long

Not every pattern has multiple lengths of salad forks but you should verify the size anyway before buying.

You may sometimes see a salad fork identified as a dessert fork or fish fork. Again, always verify size and look at a picture before buying.

Click on any picture to see a larger version. By clicking on "Comments" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions/comments.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

When is Tarnish a Positive Thing?

We are asked occasionally if we "professionally polish" pieces of sterling flatware that we sell. Our standard answer is, "No."

Before proceeding, let's define what tarnish is. Sterling silver, by definition, is 92.5% pure silver. This silver reacts with gases in the atmosphere to form corrosion known as tarnish. Sulfur dioxide is particularly corrosive. You can demonstrate this by placing a piece of sterling into a plastic bag with a chopped boiled egg. The sterling does not have to touch the egg but the gas given off by the egg will tarnish the piece within a few hours. So, tarnish is bad, right? Well, yes and no!

Of course, no one wants sterling pieces to be black with tarnish. Sterling is supposed to be silver in color! However, the tarnishing process coupled with hand polishing causes pieces to develop a rich patina over the years. And many argue, myself included, that intricate pattern designs like Gorham Buttercup and Wallace Grande Baroque are enhanced by light tarnish. In fact, there is a term, French gray, that implies that this is a desired thing.

So, back to the original question regarding "professional polishing". This process will remove much, maybe all, of the patina and French gray. Therefore, we only polish as much as we think necessary to have a nice-looking piece.

Below are two pictures. The first is of a Gorham Buttercup fork that has very little tarnish. The second is of a Gorham Buttercup teaspoon with some tarnish. Note how the tarnish brings out the details of the design. I'm not saying which is best because it's a matter of personal taste.

Click on any picture to see a larger version. By clicking on "Comments" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions/comments.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Is Used Sterling Flatware a Proper Gift?

I hope comments will be added to this post. I'll give my opinion but I'm sure there are those who will have different opinions.

My opinion is that it is OK for used sterling silver flatware to be a gift. In the spirit of full disclosure, I must say that I buy and sell used sterling flatware so I could be biased! Here are a few "talking points":
  1. Sterling pieces given as a gift should "blend" well with the recipient's existing set of flatware. If the set is new, gifts should be in at least "nearly new" condition. If the set is old, "gently used" pieces are OK.
  2. If the recipient is a stickler for specific hallmarks on the pieces, used pieces may be the only choice.
  3. If the giver is on a budget, he or she may be able to give two or more used pieces for the price of a single brand new piece.
  4. Recycling is a big deal these days. Manufacturing new pieces consumes precious energy.
  5. Make the recipient a collaborator - tell him or her where great pieces can be bought at great prices.

Before I got into this business, my mother-in-law purchased a used piece of sterling flatware for my wife and one for me every Christmas. It became somewhat of a tradition, much better than adding a new tree ornament each year. She lived to be 94 so we accumulated quite a set! All the pieces fit nicely into what we already had and the set looked as if it had been purchased at one time. This collaboration worked fine for us.

By clicking on "Comments" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions/comments.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Price: Commodity Silver vs. Sterling Flatware

Here's a question we hear from time to time, "How much is the price of sterling flatware affected by the commodity silver market?"

Obviously, commodity silver prices have a long run impact on sterling silver flatware retail prices since commodity silver is the primary raw material for sterling flatware. On the other hand, when considering the secondary market for used sterling flatware, short term fluctuations in the commodity silver price may not impact the prices that much. Consider the chart below from that depicts the price of raw silver for twelve months:
Raw silver dropped in price by over 50% during the period from the March 2008 to October 2008. I know for a fact that the market price of a Buttercup teaspoon or a Chantilly fork did not fall by 50% during the same time period. In my opinion, the price for these pieces stayed roughly the same.

So, if you are thinking of buying, or selling, some sterling flatware pieces, my suggestion is not to worry too much about the current price of raw silver. Other economic conditions may have a greater impact.

Click on any picture to see a larger version. By clicking on "Comments" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions/comments.