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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.

bride, bridal, registry

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.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

About Knives

We receive questions about knives more than any other topic. So here are some points to help reduce the confusion.

Blade Shape
You see in the picture below the three common blade shapes in use today. The knives shown are in the Buttercup pattern by Gorham. The knife on top has a "blunt" blade. Blades with this shape are not manufactured much any more, if at all. The middle knife is often called "modern hollow knife". It's probably the most popular blade shape being manufactured now. The bottom knife has a "French" blade. All three shapes come in different lengths (discussed below). There is an older French blade shape not shown here that has a slightly wider blade and a more rounded point.

Knife Length
The next picture illustrates different knife lengths. Many sterling flatware patterns offer three different lengths of knife. The Chantilly by Gorham modern hollow knives in this picture are, from top to bottom:

  • Luncheon..... 8 7/8 inches long
  • Place............. 9 1/4 inches long
  • Dinner.......... 9 1/2 inches long
  • Note the differences in the relationship between handle length and blade length. There is also a noticeable difference in the weight of the knives.

    In the case of the Chantilly pattern, French blade knives are also offered in luncheon, place and dinner lengths but they are slightly different from the modern hollow knife lengths. There is another length category you will not see often - "continental". It's larger than dinner length.

    Here are a few points regarding knives today...

    1. Specific use is not as important as it once was; i.e., luncheon knives are used for dinner and vice-versa. Very few people can afford three complete sets of knives so the place size has become a popular compromise.
    2. The names of the sizes are not used precisely; i.e., some people call place knives dinner knives, some people call dinner knives place knives, etc. Some people think French blade knives are luncheon knives. So, we tend to pay attention to actual measurements of the knives and the shape of the blade in pictures rather than trying to define them by name.
    3. Most sterling silver knives currently in manufacture only have sterling handles. Most blades are stainless steel.
    4. Most knives offered for sale on sites like eBay are luncheon or place lengths. If you don't understand the length exactly for a piece you are considering buying, ask the seller for length specifications. Assuming equal condition, the longer the knife, the higher the price.

    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.