Monday, 16 April 2012

Investing in Silver: Advice for the modern collector.

Investing in Silver: Advice for the Modern Collector.

There's no denying, financially speaking we live in uncertain times. The Credit Crunch has had many far reaching effects, but for most people with a little expendable cash, one thing holds true: putting your money in the bank yields little return. So then, what to do with it?
There are other investments to make, of course- stocks and shares, futures, commodities, fine wines, art and of course antiques.

A Sterling Silver Investment Bar
A Fine Silver investment Bar.

My area of expertise is, of course antiques. Specifically silver. We have seen the bullion price of silver and gold skyrocket since the Crunch, and this has certainly impacted on the price of silver antiques in many examples. But what does all this mean?

A little financial advice. What would I recommend? Well, I'm no financial advisor, but something that any investor should understand is that investment is always subject to risk. Many bright sparks will tell you that X or Y is a sure bet, and they are sometimes proved to be right. But the general rule is that there is no such thing as a sure bet. Investing isn't about sure bets, it's about risk management.
A set of Silver Goblets.
Sterling Silver Goblets
We also need to ask ourselves what we want to achieve. Do we want to make a quick killing, or do we want to put our money in to something reasonably safe?

Rule one of antique silver investment: Unless the value of sterling silver jumps again, antique silver is usually not a good short term investment. If you're thinking of putting your money in to something you will want to liquidate in the next five years, don't choose antique silver unless you wish to speculate on the price of silver.
The other important point to note of course, is that any investment that has the potential for high short term returns is likely to be high risk. Things which soar in price over a short period also crash. Making money isn't that easy, or everyone would be doing it!

There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. There always are. The work, and especially enamel work, of Gerald Benney has jumped up in value over the last five years. So has Chinese silver. Domestic Georgian silver, in general, has dropped. Large, heavy pieces of silver, which are usually valued in proportion to the weight, have increased in value. Four piece Victorian tea sets are twice the value they were five years ago.
If you're clever enough to identify these trends and jump on the bandwagon then good luck to you. You might need it though!

Rule two of antique silver investment: Buy things you like and will enjoy, and prepare to pass them down to the next generation.
A Georgian Silver Wine Coaster
A Georgian silver Wine Coaster
This is the real secret of antiques investment. Year to year, decade to decade, the value of silver antiques will rise and fall just like any other market. Some people enjoy operating within those fluctuations, buying and selling, chopping and changing.
But as they grow in age fine pieces will accrue in value, increase in rarity and become more desirable. This is where the smart money is. Buy the best you can afford, and allow it to become rarer and more important while you own it.
There is also the important issue of death duties. In the United Kingdom, antiques are not subject to death duties when you pass them down (provided they were not purchased within seven years of the time of death). Therefore they are an excellent way to ensure a financial legacy.

The real joy of antique silver though, is not simply financial. I always advise customers to buy what they love, and will enjoy owning, and even using! Investment is an important consideration when buying antiques, and the idea of handing down a legacy of fine and valuable objects is an attractive one. However, what could be better than putting your money in to something which is a joy to own and use, enriches your life, and at the same time a healthy way to protect your money?!

James Baldwin is owner of James Baldwin Antiques: Antique Silver, Georg Jensen and Old Sheffield Plate

A Sterling Silver Chess Set
A Sterling Silver Chess Set weighing just under 4 kilos

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Antique Silver Candlesticks

 The antique silver candlestick is perhaps the quintessential antique silver object. It makes perfect sense. Not only is it beautiful, but silver is the most reflective metal known to man.
In the times before electricity one point of light became many, as the single candle flame was reflected numerous times. The effect was, and still is, dazzling, and quite seductive. Candle light gives off a romantic and flattering light, and creates a wonderful ambiance at the dinner table. Augment this atmosphere with fine silver candlesticks and silverware and you have created a rare and special occasion!

These fine Antique Silver Candlesticks are by Charles Fox
A fine pair of Victorian silver Candlesticks by Charles Fox.

 The term candlestick is often interchanged for candle holder, but really a candlestick is simply a type of candle holder. They are only truly candlesticks when tall, on a stem. Some people erroneously term them silver candlestick holders, believing that the candle itself is the candlestick. Silver Candle holders could also be silver chambersticks or silver candelabra.
Also we should note that all which can be said of the silver candlestick can also be said of antique silver plate candlesticks too, as they were made in tandem with silver examples from 1765 to the present day, in identical styles and qualities.

The base of a very fine Victorian Silver Plate candlestick
The base of a Victorian Silver plate candlestick
It is very rare to find a silver candlestick prior to 1600, but by the 18th century antique silver candlesticks are quite plentiful. Many different designs proliferated, and the styles and heights were both matters of fashion which changed quite regularly. Georgian silver candlesticks started in the early 18th century, as standard, around 6” tall. By the end of the century 10-12 inches was the norm for silver candlesticks, and smaller examples were made for different purposes such as piano candlesticks or silver candlesticks for the side table.
Old Sheffield Plate Candesticks were made in the identical styles as their silver counterparts, and many Georgian manufacturers made both solid silver and silver plate candlesticks.

An interesting example of Post War British silver, by Leslie Durbin
A Stunning pair of Post War British Silver candlesticks

Victorian silver candlesticks could be any height, and it was not abnormal in the Victorian period to have candlesticks as tall as 12.5 inches. The smaller sorts prevailed also, but as before, for different uses than general lighting of rooms and, of course, the dinner table. Many designs were also popular, and the invention of electroplate meant that silver plate candlesticks could be bought in large quantity and inexpensively.
Then, of course, the invention first of gas lighting, and later electricity. Candlesticks became, quite understandably, less plentiful, and were, as today, solely produced to enhance the ambience of an evening room, especially the dinner table.

The original article can be found here: Antique Silver Candlesticks

These elegant Georgian Candlesticks are made in Old Sheffield Plate
A pair of Georgian Old Sheffield Plate candlesticks in the Neoclassical style.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Antique Silver Tea Sets

 Antique Silver Tea Sets and antique silver plated tea sets are highly prized, and a truly wonderful way to add a little luxury to every day life. Tea has been drunk in the far east for many thousands of years, but it arrived in Europe in the 16th century, and was popular throughout Europe by the late 17th century. At first it was not normal to have a silver tea set, each piece of teaware being bought separately. Tea Pots, silver sugar bowls and cream jugs did not need to match, and often silver was mixed with porcelain. By the late 18th century, the rule of George III, it became fashionable for tea related antiques to match, and thus the Georgian Silver Tea Set was born!

Having said that, to find a pre-1800 tea set is very unusual indeed. Georgian silver tea sets can more regularly be found from 1805 onwards, and are in elegant Regency styles. At this time the antique silver plated tea set appears, in the form of fine Old Sheffield Plate tea sets.

As time went on the plain Georgian style of silver tea set gave over to more ornate taste. William the IV and Victoria both saw an explosion in embellishment, especially floral embellishment, and Victorian silver tea sets are often extremely finely decorated. Both silver three piece tea sets (comprising of a tea pot, cream jug and sugar bowl), and silver four piece tea sets (with the addition of a coffee pot, or a silver hot water jug) can be regularly found.
It is also possible to find even larger sets, containing both hot water jug and coffee pot, and even a silver tea kettle and matching tray!

The original article can be found here: Antique Silver Tea Sets

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Antique Silver Spoons

 From early times, a silver spoon was a sign of wealth and prestige. A functional item, antique silver spoons are both highly collectable and wonderfully satisfying to use. A traditional Christening present, this is where the expression "born with a silver spoon in your mouth" comes from! A collection of antique silver spoons can be many things. Some collectors like to collect different makers marks and date letters. What object is better to do so with than the noble spoon. They are both affordable and beautiful, and don't take up huge amounts of space! Others are interested in collecting spoons from many different towns and countries of origin, for example.

Examples of very early English silver is almost unheard of, except for spoons. 14th and 15th century antique silver spoons are extremely rare, while 16th century silver spoons are rare, but not excessively so. A patient collector might be able to acquire an example or two, but not cheaply! By the 17th century antique silver spoons are much more plentiful, at least in part due to the increasing affluence in British society, and the amount of people who could afford them. Before the restoration of the monarchy silver spoons were owned individually, and it was the custom for a person to take their own spoon and knife to dinner, even when asked to a banquet. It was not until Charles II returned from Holland and France, bringing continental customs with him, that the British begun also to make cutlery in sets which belonged to the household, and not the individual.
Despite this fact, silver spoons were still often given as Christening presents, in the old tradition. At this time too, we begin to see specialised spoons for different purposes- the dinner spoon continues, but we also see the dessert spoon, the tea spoon and even the sweetmeat spoon.

18th century silver spoons are usually, but not always found as individuals, as larger sets became broken up, lost or melted down. By this time we start to see the fascinating array of different spoon designs and silver cutlery patterns, which are quite plentiful, whereas before silver spoon designs were relatively uniform by comparison. The number of specialised spoons for different tasks increases. Salt and mustard spoons are commonly made for the table, and to match the general eating cutlery. Now we need a different spoon with which to eat an egg- a simple silver tea spoon will not do! We also see strange spoons for more unusual tasks such as silver Marrow Scoops for removing bone marrow, and even Moustache Spoons to consume soup without making a mess of ones magnificent facial hair! There is also, of course, the famous tea caddy spoon. Silver caddy spoons are found from the late 18th century onwards in a dizzying array of designs and patterns.

In the 19th century, antique silver spoons are commonly found both as individual examples, or as part of larger sets. The array of different silver spoon designs and cutlery patterns increases enormously. The Victorians loved variety and let their imaginations run wild. Silver spoons and cutlery were, generally speaking, always made and sold as part of larger sets. At the same time the quantity of different uses for the simple spoon increased greatly, and Victorian spoons for specific and highly specialised tasks begin to be seen. We see Jam Spades and Sauce Spoons, Specialised Soup Spoons and Sugar Sifters.

The 20th century sees a continuation of all the same sorts of eating cutlery as previously, and silver spoons exist as parts of large services of dining silver. But with the Arts and Crafts movement we see a return to the old idea of a single spoon for a single person, either as a christening gift or as a prized possession. These are often made by well known and well collected makers such as A E Jones and Omar Ramsden.

The original Antique Silver Spoon Article can be found here

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Gerald Benney Silversmith: A 1965 Video.

 Just discovered this, made by Pathé in 1965. Wonderful!

 A Video about Gerald Benney: 


Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Object in Focus: Spanish Colonial "Vase", or Spittoon

There's something about Spanish Colonial silver. Except for the very finest museum pieces it is, generally speaking, quite crudely made. That isn't to say poorly- the objects are strong and good quality, but they are rudimentary and imprecise. It doesn't have outstanding design flair or superb skill in the making. It is rustic and simple, even unsophisticated.

But for all that it has a charm and incredible presence that more refined silver lacks. Much of it was made by non-specialists. That is to say, metal workers who were not exclusively silversmiths. Some were even blacksmiths! But what the Spanish Colonial smiths lacked in refinement they made up with in sheer metal. Of course, in the 16th and 17th centuries South America was the latest and greatest source of silver. With no shortage of supply in the colonies, Spanish Colonial silver, especially in the earliest periods, is usually extremely heavy.

 This object is 18th century, and has really quite beautiful traces of the original gilding. The handles are made in the manner of cast examples 100 years earlier, but in the colonies fashions changed less frequently than in Europe. Furthermore, it is not too fanciful to see the influence of ancient Mesoamerican art in these handles.

I believe this piece to originate from Guatemala, or the southern part of Mexico. Much Spanish Colonial silver was left unmarked, and there was little in the way of official hallmarking. Some pieces were marked by the owner rather than the maker, and some pieces were even marked spuriously by later generations to increase their value.
This is referred to as a vase, and it is certainly vase shaped, but this is not exactly true. It's actually a spittoon! The chewing of Tobacco was common in the Americas and such a vessel was the height of fashion, even among polite society! Today the idea might seem bizarre, but these were actually passed around the dinner table so that one could dispose of one's tobacco before eating. This was considered quite normal, and did not have the stigma of uncleanliness it does today.

See more pictures and information about this rare 18th Century Spanish Colonial Silver Spittoon here.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Silver in the Modern Home.

I like silver but you have to polish it...

It's an understandable complaint. After all, silver tarnishes, and requires some effort to keep it looking its best. But there are two problems with this thought process. The first is that, frankly, everything in your house requires cleaning and maintenance. You have to polish your car. Did it stop you buying it? What about the windows in your house? Did you decide that the upkeep wasn't worth the effort, so opened your home to the elements?

Look how beautiful. Isn't it worth a bit of upkeep to own such a thing?

The other problem with the "silver requires lots of upkeep" mentality is, quite simply, out of date. Now, this isn't a piece about how to care for your silver. Caring for your silver is a different subject. But caring for your silver has never been easier, and there's also an extra special secret which I'm going to share with you a bit later.

This article is the first of a series I would like to call "Silver in the Modern Home". It's not about cleaning silver. It's about the wonderful way in which this beautiful metal can slip in to your home, and your heart. After all, silver is about indulgence, presteige, luxury and opulence. Dining on silver, drinking from silver, using silver eating utensils- all these things bring a little bit of opulence to your every day. Why not use a 17th century silver treffid spoon to eat your cornflakes? Why not serve orange juice from a Victorian silver and crystal claret jug? You see, we all have it the wrong way around. People don't have "Sunday Best" clothes anymore, so why have "best" cutlery and tableware? If you have it, and lets be honest, it wasn't cheap, why not use it every day? Beautiful things enrich our lives. We are surrounded by visual media and art. In the computer age this is even more true than it has been previously. And so instead of hiding our best things away in dusty cupboards and feeling guilty that it gets dirty between uses, just use it! Use it every day, don't just save it up for your guests.
And what's this special secret I mentioned earlier? Well, quite simply, if you use your silver every day, you really never need to polish it! If it's in continuous use, being cleaned and put away just like everything else you have and use regularly, it never has the chance to tarnish. When you use a china plate you wash it, right? Well, when you're washing it you are, in fact, polishing it. If the plate is now made of silver then exactly the same thing applies. You haven't created more work, you've just moved the same work from one object to another.

You've done something else too. By injecting a bit of elegance and style in to the mundane activities in your day you've enriched your lifestyle. Day by day you've increased your exposure to beautiful things, refined and enhanced your eye, and lived in a better world than you would have with paper cups and plates...

Next time: Old Object, Contemporary habit. What do we use silver for?

Sunday, 25 March 2012

James Baldwin Antique Silver on Pinterest!

Well, we have just joined Pinterest! The main gallery can be found here: 

 Pretty Old Silver

I was invited to Pinterest in the week, and got around to joining yesterday. I rather like the place. It's rather like a Twitter of photos, except things are a bit less transient than Twitter, where it's very easy to acquire followers, and very hard to get any sort of meaningful dialogue, conversation or traffic from.
I use Twitter because, you know, everyone does right? But I can't say I really love the place. Mostly it seems as though people "follow" each other simply to get followers. It's a community of networkers, and not really a place where one might be likely to acquire a following of like minded people, or build an interesting community around a shared passion or interest.

Pinterest is different. People subscribe to each other and "repin" (a bit like a re-tweet) things they are genuinely interested in and like. It seems on first impressions, to be a great community for the sharing of visual ideas, style and design.

Some people seem to be using it as a commercial site- the facility is there to add a price to an image. However, I've got a website for that myself. I just want to share images, and get people talking and looking. For example, all the pieces of antique silver I've used to illustrate this blog entry are sold.

But everyone should have a chance to enjoy the above image- an extremely rare silver bell by Georg Jensen, with ebony inserts in the handle. I've never seen anything like it before, and it sold to a private collector, and so is not available on view anywhere. A stunning piece, and one that should be shared! I'm glad I now have a visual platform to do just that. 

That, I suppose, is one of the great things about social media, isn't it? Sure, you can use it to try and sell stuff, but it's far more useful for making contact with people who share your passions and interests. The reason for this blog, the JBA facebook page and now pinterest account is to build a community of like minded people, interested in the same things, and able to provide interesting information, anecdotes and share a love of fine objects and the history of design and craftsmanship.

It's also pretty clear to me that many people have no particular interest in antique silver, or even silver in 20th century design, but still appreciate beautiful images of beautiful objects.
From my perspective, I'd like to share my photographs with those people, and show people in the design community at large what amazing designers silversmiths can be, have been, and are at current. There are many objects nearing 300 and 400 years old which people think of as "stuffy" antiques, but someone with a design eye will, without any interest in the age or history of a piece, appreciate what a superb piece of design it is. I relish the opportunity to show off such pieces, and spread awareness of how un-stuffy Antiques, and especially Antique Silver can be!

Here is my Pinterest profile page:

Here is my facebook page:

And of course, the JBA website (commercial, but also full of images and articles about antique and 20th century silver:

Please do remember to subscribe to the blog if you like it, and if you have any comments about Pinterest or anything else covered above, or just want to say hello, use the comments box below!

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Investing in Silver: an 18th Century Bank Balance

The Origins of Investing in Antique Silver

Once upon a time silver and silverware was an important part of any family property. Indeed, before and during the 18th century silver was considered currency in a very real sense. It was, in effect, a bank balance. 17th and 18th century silversmiths were, in many cases, bankers who handled the trade of bullion, and fashioned silver and gold in to fine objects. It was an attractive prospect to create functional objects from the investment in Sterling silver, but also an important way to display one's wealth and importance to house guests and society at large.

An 18th Century Spanish Silver Charger

English currency was even called "Sterling", and the legal act of hallmarking silver was similar to minting coins- English hallmarked silver was guaranteed to be of currency standard, and its value was therefore definite. Nowadays we baulk at the idea of weighing fine antique silver to ascertain the metal value, but in Georgian times and earlier, this was common practice, and in fact, the only way in which value was truly measured.

A pair of Georgian Salvers Hallmarked Sterling, London, 1764

In many ways then, things have not changed so much. Certainly with early silver the weight of the metal bears little relation to the value of the object. Antique value is ascertained in different ways- rarity, quality, condition etc. One would never dream of asking a furniture dealer the mahogany value of a George III dining table! There is a perception that all antiques go ever upwards in value as they get older, and presumably rarer. This is, of course, not a hard and fast rule. There are no hard and fast rules in the world of investment, and so I never tell my customers they should invest purely from a monetary motive. 
What is certain though, is that Antiques generally provide much better value than new goods. Expensive new luxury items are generally worth less than half of the retail price if one comes to re-sell. Antique silver holds a good proportion of the value one has originally paid, and may indeed show an overall good investment. 
This was as true in the 18th century as it is now. Wealthy Georgian families saw the value of their silverware go up and down with the price of the silver, but they knew that like any investment it was subject to fluctuation, and that unlike company shares, silver will always be valuable and desirable.

More articles on antique silver, modern silver and Old Sheffield Plate can be found in the article section of my website:

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Thursday, 22 March 2012

Object in Focus: A Gerald Benney Silver Gilt Goblet

Object in Focus: A Gerald Benney Silver Gilt Goblet

Without a doubt, there's something about drinking from silver. The first time I did so, I was struck by how much silver conducts the cold of the liquid, and with a glass of chilled white wine for example, frosts beautifully, picking out any decoration it might have. 
Then of course, there is the prestige involved in drinking from a vessel made of precious metal. A silver goblet is beautifully heavy, reflective and soft to the touch in a way other metals are not. Silver goblets have a certain inescapable gravitas, and one is remembered of the myriad important figures of history who have had the privilege of drinking from silver. The metal seems to infuse the contents with a focus and importance that makes on appreciate it all the more.
If drinking from silver has a sense of prestige, then drinking from a silver goblet made by a famous and important maker is perhaps the pinnacle of that.

 Post War British Silver has been the darling of the silver trade for a number of years now. The very great silversmiths of the Post War Period are now highly collected and very greatly appreciated by the collector. There are those, in fact, who collect nothing but Post War Silver!
Amongst the Post War silversmiths two names dominate- Stuart Devlin and Gerald Benney. Devlin has been a big name for many years now. His magnificent silver and gilt creations put one in mind of sparkling towers and alien architecture.

 However, in recent years Devlin has been pushed in to second position by the genius of Gerald Benney. His signature bark effect was invented, he claimed, by accident. The use of a damaged hammer created a pattern he thought interesting, and after some experimentation the famous "Bark Effect" silver finish of Gerald Benney was born. It proved so popular many other makers emulated it, but never quite as successfully as Benney himself.
Gerald Benney was certainly a stickler for quality. He maintained a relatively small workshop which he oversaw carefully, ensuring that all he produced was of good hand made quality, and refusing to cut corners on gauge and automated techniques.

His silver speaks of this refusal to mass produce, in an age where mass production was the normal mode of operation after success and reputation had been achieved.

This goblet was made in London 1973 and is marked AGB for Adrian Gerald Benney. Unusually it is silver gilt both inside and out. The gauge is excellent and the piece is pleasantly substantial in the hand, but not overly weighty.

More details, including a price, can be found on my website: A fine Gerald Benney Silver Gilt Goblet.