Did you promise yourself that this was the last year you’d spend hours polishing silver after hosting the holidays?
Grandma’s silverware makes the dinner table sparkle. But it’s temperamental, takes hours to prepare for storage, and, for some, is more of a chore than a treasured heirloom.
It’s also possibly worth a sizeable chunk of money.
There are three ways to sell your family silver: on eBay, to a silver matching service, or as cash-for-metal (basically a pawn shop).
Each has its pros and cons. In this guide, we’ll show you how to maximize the payout you get for your silver by covering all of the most important areas.
Sterling silver flatware has value for the metal itself. But, before you haul a bag of sterling silver to a buyer (pawn or cash-for-silver shop) near you, know that you might be able to get a good deal more by selling the flatware to collectors.
How much more? Well, that depends on a few factors:
The current price of silver. As a commodity, silver goes up and down in value. If the price of silver is high, you’ll get a better price when selling it just for the price of its metal.
The age and rarity of the pattern. Silver patterns come in and out of popularity. Collectors looking to complete their sets expect to pay more for lesser-seen patterns or those created before 1920.
If there are monograms. Initials marking the silver lower its value. These can be covered by a professional, but generally, limit your ability to sell on the private market.
The individual pieces of flatware. Forks, knives, and spoons are easier for collectors to find. However, tableware (other items besides basic forks, spoons and knives) like hostess sets, barware, carving fork and knife sets, demitasse spoons, or cocktail forks are more rare and higher in value.
If you have a complete setting. The individual value of a fork or knife might be $30. However, collectors are more inclined to purchase a complete place setting to expand their collection.
Another factor that influences the value of your silver, says Mike Rivkin, owner of Antique Galleries of Palm Springs, is generational perceptions of worth.
“Sterling silver tea sets, candle holders, and flatware are all exceedingly out of favor at the moment. Old-schoolers already have what they need and millennials have no interest. Thus, most buyers will want a total weight (by gram),” he said.
The exception to this rule is silver flatware and tableware made by premium producers like Tiffany as well as silver with excellent workmanship or an affiliation to a famous person or historical event.
As for the baseline value of your family silver, you’ll want to check commodity prices, which is something we’ll talk about in a few minutes.
For now, we’ll take you through the steps of how to identify the type, pattern and maker of your flatware and/or tableware.
Contrary to popular belief, an item marked “silver” doesn’t mean that it’s pure, solid silver — it might just be a silver-plate. What’s the difference?
Silver plating (sometimes called “electroplating”) is when a layer of silver is applied to flatware made of another metal.
How to Identify Silver-Plated Flatware
Thankfully, silver-plate is almost always marked as such. The item might simply say “silver-plate” on the backside of its stem like shown above. Other markings that indicate silver-plate include “plated,” “EP” (electroplated) or “EPNS” (electroplated nickel silver).
However, the easiest way to tell if an item is a silver-plate is simply by a lack of marks indicating its silver purity. For example, there were several manufacturers who sold both silver-plate and sterling. They include:
- International Silver Co.
- W.M. Rogers
- Rogers and Son
If your flatware or tableware has a maker’s mark from any of the above, check for the word “sterling” as seen below. If not there, the item is plated.
Note that if your silver flatware has no markings at all, it’s likely a silver-plated piece, as it’s very rare for sterling to be unmarked.
What to Do If Your Flatware or Tableware Is Silver-Plated
Unfortunately, the layer of silver plating is very thin, typically less than 0.1 micrometers thick, meaning that silver-plate has flatware intrinsic value. And, because the process of removing and replating flatware is so expensive, these pieces don’t have any resale value either.
In short, enjoy it. Most silver-plate can last approximately 20 years depending on how well it’s cared for.
How to Identify Sterling Silver Tableware
There are several markings that indicate sterling silver flatware or tableware. Here are the most common marks you’ll see on a sterling silver set:
Fine: 100% pure silver
Sterling: Sterling is a legally binding term. If it’s marked with the word sterling, it must be 92.5% pure silver, and not plated.
.925 (or higher number): Indicates that the silver is at least 925/1000 purity (the remaining 075/1000 additive is usually copper), and was manufactured in America.
A lion or lion’s paw: Indicates sterling silver originating from England. May also include the city, maker, and year of manufacture.
Once you’ve recognized a sterling mark, you can move on to evaluating its value. This doesn’t guarantee that you’ll recognize the marking, though.
If your silver is very old, there’s a chance that it might just have the maker's name and mark. For example, some pieces of civil war-era silver were melted down from coins and have stamps that were made by a family member or local silversmith.
If that’s the case, you can try to identify the maker’s mark by searching through the Online Encyclopedia of Silver Marks, Hallmarks, and Maker’s Marks, though it helps to have an idea of the silver’s country of origin.
Should you still come up empty-handed, you can post to their encyclopedia forum or contact one of the silver matching services we’ll share below.
You have multiple online resources for identifying your sterling silver flatware or tableware. One of the best resources we’ve found is The Silver Queen’s sterling silver flatware identification page.
The page features more than 15 different manufacturers and displays photos of each of the types of patterns those manufacturers made.
Another option is to can reach out to a silver matching service, such as Replacements, Ltd., to identify the pattern for you. However, this might cost a small fee.
Now that you know your flatware is sterling silver and have identified its pattern, you can accurately check how much it would sell for to collectors. There are two ways to sell, so you’re going to check the going rates from each.
To make it easy to follow along, we’ll use this International Sterling Queen’s Lace demitasse spoon as an example:
Visit eBay and enter the maker and pattern of your sterling silver. Before you get too excited at the listed prices that come up, remember that this only shows active auctions that no one has purchased yet!
Instead, look at the menu of filters on the left of the page. Under Show only, select the box that says Sold listings. This gives you a more accurate idea of how much your piece will sell for.
Completed listings for the International Sterling Queen’s Lace demitasse spoon show that it sells for anywhere between $15–25.99 for an individual spoon.
An important note: Whole sets often sell for much more than individual pieces as sort of collector’s starter kits. If you have multiple place settings, also search for your items with the word “lot” or filter results from highest price to lowest to get an idea of the worth of your whole bundle.
Since you’re already on eBay, this is a good time to learn some other important information about your silver. Looking closely at the listing featured images – are there any that look like professional?
You can generally identify these listings by their higher prices or because the item has been photoshopped to appear on a white background. This one by Replacements, Ltd. is a great example.
If you can identify a professional listing, click the link and check to see if it lists the item’s weight, like above. Make a note of the weight for later.
Should You List Your Sterling Silver Tableware on eBay?
There are pros and cons to selling silver on eBay. On the upside, you’ll likely get the highest price for your sterling silver. On the other hand, selling privately means taking lots of pictures, listing individual pieces, and individually shipping each order.
We’ll share some ideas on how to maximize your profits after you’re done estimating cost. But for now, we recommend continuing onto the next step.
There are several silver matching services that will buy your pieces to sell to collectors. They include:
To receive bids, you’ll have to contact each company individually and fill out their online form that marks which pieces you have and how many of each. Then, you wait for a bid.
In our experience, Replacements, Ltd. was the first to reply, and did so via email. Their bid offer came 48 hours after submission and offered $9 per demitasse spoon we asked them to price.
It’s worth noting that the bid offer is contingent on each piece’s condition. Additionally, some services will pay for shipping, but others expect you to cover the cost.
It then takes several weeks for the company to evaluate your silver before mailing you a check.
More importantly, items that don’t make the cut are either discarded or shipped back to you at your own expense.
Because it’s costly to ship large amounts of metal, we emailed Replacements, Ltd. asking if an initial assessment of quality could be made by sending a picture, just to ensure items weren’t considered too scratched or worn to be considered up to par.
Eight days later, we still haven’t received a response. Additionally, neither Kovels nor the Antique Cupboard ever responded with a bid.
Coming in five days later, The Silver Queen sent a bid via snail mail for the entire bundle, but didn’t break down their offer piece by piece.
Considering that Replacements, Ltd. offered $9, which is just over half the price of the lowest sold listing on eBay, you’re probably wondering what’s the point of contacting silver matching services?
Although it’s a time-consuming step, contacting silver matching services gives you the benefit of a professional evaluation. Just check out the screenshot of their bid below:
Can you tell the difference between a demitasse spoon, youth five o’clock spoon, and a fruit spoon at first glance? Probably not–meaning there’s a chance that you could unwittingly sell something for far below its value.
Basically, getting a bid for your pattern gives you a chance to scan through and see which pieces are worth high amounts, then look those up online to make sure that you’re not mistaking one item for another (and possibly losing out).
To determine a piece’s intrinsic value, you’re going to need a scale to find out exactly how much it weighs.
Silver and other precious metals are measured in troy ounces, which is 31.1 grams per ounce. That’s opposed to the standard ounce, which is 28.35 grams. Ounce-for-ounce, the difference might not seem like much, but it adds up quickly when you’re trading in larger quantities.
Going back to our demitasse spoon, we know that it sells for $15–24.99 individually on eBay, or for $9 to a silver matching service. But, what about the value of the silver itself?
At .36 troy ounces, and with the current silver spot (price per ounce) at $14.39 at the time of writing, that gives it a melt value (how much it would be worth if it was melted down) of just around $5.15. This isn’t a lot for one piece. However, the spoon measures barely over 4 inches, meaning that larger pieces are obviously worth more.
Are the stamps on the back of your silver obscured by tarnish? We know it’s tempting to see your silver sparkle and shine, but using a chemical tarnish remover or any quick polishing tip found online can ruin the factory-applied finish and reduce the value of your silver.
Instead, pick up a jewelry polishing cloth to help with your initial inspection.
However, says Samuel Tang, designer and gemologist at Joy Creations, tarnish (or “oxidation”) could be selling point for some customers.
“Some people like oxidization on their silver pieces. For example, this finish on a ring or piece of jewelry can have a nice contrast between high polished parts and oxidized parts,” Tang said.
He went on to emphasize the importance of being extremely careful if you decide to polish your flatware and other silver items.
“As for silverware, some people like to preserve them in original condition, for example, maker’s stamps can get polished off if it's already old to start with,” he said.
Make a spreadsheet of your sterling silver tableware, noting how many of each piece you have, and list three prices. For example, the single demitasse teaspoon we sent to the matching services for a quote can be sold:
- On eBay for $15 to 24.99
- To a service for $9
- To a “Cash for Gold” shop for $5.15
As you can see, selling privately nets you the most cash for your items. However, selling on eBay is time-consuming – you’ll have to polish, photograph, and list each item.
And don’t forget about taking multiple trips to the post office you'll have to take, as well as the money you’ll spend on the packaging.
How much effort you want to put into selling is up to you. However, to maximize your profit, we recommend the following:
Step 1: Set Aside Any Damaged Pieces
To thin the heard and help your decision, go through and take a good look at what you have and consider if any pieces are damaged.
Pay careful attention to fork tines, ensuring that they’re not bent or askew. Double check for monogrammed pieces, which silver matching services won’t accept. Also look for extreme signs of scratching or wear.
Put all of the damaged and monogrammed pieces aside to be sold as cash for silver.
Step 2: Pick Out Any Rare, Unique or High-Cost Pieces
If you have a large collection of sterling silver tableware, you probably don’t want to spend the next week polishing and photographing each piece.
Instead, we recommend selling the most valuable pieces yourself on eBay. This allows you to get a high price for the pieces that are sure to appeal to collectors, without losing endless hours to listing an entire set individually.
Items you should be sure to list include serving spoons, carving sets, bar sets, and anything else that you don’t see already listed twenty times over online.
How to set your price? Remember to look at closed auctions first to see what buyers are willing to pay. Then, we recommend listing for slightly less than the active listings to get items out the door quickly.
Also, don’t forget to do your research regarding the maker, Tang told us.
“Look for hallmarks, designer stamps, and do research on designs. They can be rare pieces from a certain historical period, which will drive the value up,” he said.
Step 3: Bundle Remaining Undamaged Items and Send to a Matching Service
If items didn’t sell the first time around, you can always relist. However, you may find yourself wanting to get rid of your silver either because it’s taking up space or selling it is becoming too much work.
At this point, take any pieces that didn’t sell along with the majority of your forks, knives, spoons, and other items and send them off to the silver matching service. Just be sure to confirm that their bid hasn’t expired.
Step 4: Take Damaged Pieces to a Pawn Shop
Do you have more than a few pieces that are mangled from the garbage disposal, severely scratched and bent, or otherwise in the condition to sell as tableware?
Bundle those up and sell to a business that advertises cash for metal, also generally pawn shops.
Selling here means that your sterling silver will be purchased at its melt value, which is approximately 50% of the current silver spot.
We called around and, at the time of writing with a silver spot at $16.80, a sterling salad fork would net $13, while soup spoons net almost $15.
The shops we spoke with suggested tracking the value of silver throughout a week or a month period to ensure that you don’t happen to sell on a day when silver has taken a dip. Also, be sure to mention that you’re selling–not taking a loan–and you’ll get a better price.
The Bottom Line: Patience and Research Can Multiply Your Sterling Silver Payout
Taking the time to learn about your sterling silver tableware might sound labor intensive at first, but it means receiving three or more times the amount when you sell.
It’s also important to remember that selling silver, even for its intrinsic value as metal, shouldn’t be done in haste.
Do your research about the origins of your silver flatware and tableware, weigh the pros and cons of the various ways you can sell it and keep an eye on silver prices. View your silver as a sought-after commodity that you should sell to the highest bidder.
Based on our research, putting in the extra work means that you can earn three times as much selling your silver on the private market than you can by selling it to a pawn shop or cash-for-silver business.
Editor’s note: This article was originally written by Autumn Yates and published on Feb 20, 2017. It has been revised and updated by J.R. Duren on May 31, 2019.