Planning matters

Selling Your Grandmother’s Silver

When I married in the late 1960s, my mother’s friends gave me silver—serving trays, a fruit compote, and a set of silver plate goblets.  Eventually, my grandmother’s silver tea and coffee service came my way.

In my mother’s mid-20th Century life, silver was a middle-class status symbol. Women were not working outside the home but instead managed the house, took care of children, cooked, and attended women’s club meetings. Hostesses provided tea, coffee, and maybe a light lunch. Silver serving trays, silver candleholders and silver luncheon forks and spoons were de rigor.

Why it struck me 50 years on that I should sell most of this inherited silver is not clear. I just decided the trays, the candy dishes and pitchers had to go. Maybe the burden of associated nostalgic memories of my mother, of my grandmother were no longer tolerable. They were proud of what they and their spouses had accomplished and proud of their possessions.

I told myself that when I go, all of this will end up with Goodwill or be “rehomed” in a yard sale. “Why not let go, now, on my own terms,” I thought.

On a Thursday, I headed to town with a cardboard box full of silver stuff — trays, dishes, and a silver candelabra that my mother had with reverence given to me years ago.

There was not much research involved. That day I had checked the price of silver on the global spot market … $24.78 a troy ounce. I did not know that silver plate is nearly worthless.

Silver Plate vs. Sterling

The coin and currency store people were nice. They explained that each piece would be evaluated for its silver content by the gram. That threw me off since I didn’t know how many grams were in a troy ounce of silver. (I learned that each troy ounce contains 31.1 grams of silver. That is slightly higher than the standard ounce, which has 28 grams).

The guy at the counter examined each item using a watchmaker’s eye piece. I later realized he was looking for tiny markings on the underside to help him determine if the item was silver plate or sterling silver.

There’s a big difference. Silver plate has a micro-thin layer of silver laid on over base metal such as copper, brass, or nickel. Sterling silver by definition is made with 92.5 percent silver and about 7.5 percent alloy.

Of the pieces I brought to the store, all but two were silver plate. Weighing a total of 14.82 pounds, I was offered $1 a pound for the lot, which came to a whopping $14.82.

Two Items –both candy-dish size bowls — one weighing 940 grams, the other 291 grams, were sterling. I was paid 47 cents a gram for them, which totaled $580. I walked out of the store happy. A small burden was lifted. The money goes into a travel fund for the post-Covid day when I again can get on an airplane.

What I learned

I was immediately confused at the store by the grams vs ounces payout issue. I was offered 47 cents a gram versus the expected $24-something an ounce. I could have cleared that up with a phone call in advance of my store visit. “How do you pay for silver, grams or ounces,” I should have asked.

Secondly, I could easily have figured out what pieces were sterling and what were silver-plate. Knowing that silver plate is worthless, I might have sold these items — trays, a pitcher, and the candelabra – to an antique store or jeweler or on eBay or to another online antique silver buyer. But that would have required a bigger time commitment but worth it in dollars.

But don’t be fooled by prices you see online for silver collectibles – dinnerware, trays etc. Instead expect to be offered half those prices for your items.

Silver-plate looks good, but the veneer is micro-thin. The guy at the coin store told me, it is shipped by railcar-load to a smelter in New Jersey to be processed for the underlying metal – brass or nickel or whatever.

Maybe I should have given the silver plate away to unsuspecting children, stepchildren, or former stepchildren. Maybe some would have liked a small silver dish or tray? But I doubt it.

Tips for Selling Your Grandmother’s Silver

  1. Determine what you’ve got – sterling or plated. Sterling silver usually has STER or .925 (925 parts per 1000) stamped on the bottom. Plate may not have a mark, or you might find EPNS or EP (Electroplated).
  2. Decide how much effort you will put into selling your silver. Two options: Selling it for its antique/collectible value online or with a consignment dealer or selling it by the ounce (or gram) for the metal. Spend time online reading up on your options and prices. Don’t polish anything. Watch out for online scams or shady coin shops.
  3. Get an appraisal in person for antique/collectible value but find a separate buyer. Consider selling online through eBay or another web site. Call around for the going local price for sterling and for silver plate if you want a quick sale. Know from the start that silver plate is near worthless. Giving it away is an option.
  4. Check the current price of silver in ounces and in grams on the global spot market. Expect to be paid by the gram at less than market price for sterling silver — likely 30 percent less.
  5. Understand the offer. Get an invoice in writing. Your cash deal will be final. 

For more information:

Thank you to Julia Anderson, guest author of today’s post and host of the website, Sixty and Single.

Written By Johnson Bixby