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: www.jamesbaldwinantiques.com
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