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The other problem with the "silver requires lots of upkeep" mentality is, quite simply, out of date.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.