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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.