An elderly relative's pirates' horde of treasure
January 30, 2012 4:59 PM   Subscribe

92.5% Sterling Silver scrap value, and where to sell it to a precious metals dealer in the Seattle area: Any advice?

I have inherited a truly massive horde of sterling silver from an elderly relative. I am 99% confident that the silver in question is of the 92.5% silver content variety, and much of it was manufactured pre-1935. My questions are:

1) There appear to be several complete 60+ piece sets, complete with weird things like toast servers, giant ladles, etc. They closely resemble sets which are selling for $1400+ on eBay in the sterling silver category. Is it worth my time to take these to an estate sale/appraiser to see how much value they might have as antiques or collectibles, above and beyond their weight in silver? I have little to no interest in researching these sets' values, polishing them, photographing them and selling them individually on eBay myself.

2) In my initial research, I have read that it is common for certain items such as knives and candle holders to have steel shafts inside or hollow cavities filled with wax. If sold for scrap value, apparently these are usually cut up and the excess metal is removed before weighing?

3) I've found this website which lists a "buy" price for sterling silver at $0.858 USD per gram. They do not work directly with consumers, the FAQ on the website says they only buy from refiners, pawn shops, jewelers and so forth. If I really have a bunch of sterling silver flatware to sell, how much less than $0.858 USD/gram would be normal to get paid from a local metal purchaser?

I am very hesitant to consider doing business with one of the scammy looking "cash for gold" type operations that have popped up around North America over the past several years. I also thing it's a bit sad that semi-unique pieces which may be 100 years old could be melted down for their silver value - but pure silver was at $12/troy ounce in 2009, and is currently hovering somewhere around $33.50/troy ounce right now. Judging by the weight of all this (unless much of it is not in fact silver) we might be looking at $5,000+ USD worth of silver.

Lastly, if anyone can offer contact info or a reference to an estate appraiser or reputable, honest broker of precious metals in the Seattle area, it would be highly appreciated.
posted by thewalrus to Work & Money (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
1) Yes, it's good to show to a few antique dealers and auction houses. Many pieces may be discontinued and will be desirable to those wishing to complete their sets. It is most helpful if you already know the pattern names. A complete collection of over 20+ pieces also has more value as a collection, rather than item by item. Unusual serving pieces are fun, because back then it was a luxury to have an item with only one purpose. You don't need to polish, photograph and sell them - most will take them as-is rather than have someone over-polish them. You can email photos around with an inventory, photos of odd serving pieces and a detail of the pattern and any stamps/marks. You can even put them on a photocopier or scanner. Only then should you consider scrapping/melting them. Look up terms such as "replacement service" - in fact, Replacements Ltd. is one of your best guidelines here. Most dealers are aware of it, though your local market may vary. If they have a collector, they can not just expect a better price themselves, but can offer you a fair price. They're not all evil money-grubbers - most value their reputation tremendously, and need to generate goodwill. After all - your friends may also have grandmas with silver hoards. Ebay will not be your best resource here, unless you're searching completed auctions.

2) Yes, it is due to how they're constructed. This is for a variety of reasons, such as because back when people were buying them, sterling was expensive and people wouldn't pay for the extra weight in a knive, but would put it into a showier serving piece. Sometimes this has to do with replacing the blade and heat transfer. Some may have ivory or bone ferrules, which can be replaced if needed (by a dealer). Here is a discussion of the weight and content of hollow-handled knives.

3) You can keep track of the Fix here. Really, you lose a little from the price per gram in every transaction because each hand it passes through needs to make a few bucks. You need to decide how much you want this to be over with quickly, or whether it's worth the investment of your time to get the best price. Please don't make me do the math - I haven't had to in years, but I'm sure you can figure the formula to get your price per gram?

I don't have a reference for a dealer or appraiser in your area. In such circumstances, I usually suggest getting references from friends and family members who have had good experiences, though of course, random internet strangers can be extremely helpful. Most auction houses give a verbal auction estimate with no obligation at no cost. There are a few associations to start with. This is the one I am most familiar with.

It sounds like you are eager to melt. I would suggest that if they are a rare and beautiful pattern, to please let them go to a dealer who will keep them intact - at least the desirable serving pieces. If it's something common like Chantilly, which has been produced for years, there's no real crime in letting it go. The last time silver really peaked in the 80's (which I remember was when my parents let go everything we had in silver) many many beautiful things were lost to the world, and that's why certain things are now more valuable than their melt due to rarity. I'm not particularly an avid rescuer of souvenir spoons and butter knives, but I've spent enough years selling in antique stores and auction houses to swoon a bit over a fine set of oyster forks, so I urge you to get a few opinions from people who are enthusiastic about the stuff.
posted by peagood at 6:12 PM on January 30, 2012 [7 favorites]

* extra weight in a knife * Ay yi, I'm posting at bedtime - sorry!
posted by peagood at 6:14 PM on January 30, 2012

Very detailed and useful answer, thanks, peagood! Yes, I can calculate the value based on the USD per gram price. I have a fairly accurate postage scale which is big enough to weigh most pieces, and can convert units based on 1 troy ounce = 31.1034768 grams.

I guess I should add to the original post that none of these pieces are family heirlooms or hold much sentimental value. As best anyone can remember they were purchased starting from the late 1960s up until the early 2000s as second or third-hand pieces. None were in the family at the time they were manufactured pre-WW2.

If an antique dealer or estate purchaser is willing to buy the intact sets or pieces at a price at exceeds their melt value, I'll be happy, and as you said, many beautiful things have already been lost to melting in the 1980s. Looks like I have a lot of phone calls to make tomorrow...
posted by thewalrus at 6:21 PM on January 30, 2012

No! Don't melt! Check out your stuff at Replacements. If you don't know the pattern, the nice ladies at will help.

Melting is destruction of finely crafted beautiful things. Why not keep 1 set to eat with?
posted by Ideefixe at 6:49 PM on January 30, 2012

Oh, please don't melt them! I promise that there are people in the world who will simply adore your sterling, people for whom it will become heirlooms.

What about paying a friend (since so many folks are out of work, perhaps you know someone to whom this would be a boon) or a friend's teenage kid to polish, photograph and eBay? You will definitely clear more - even with paying someone - than if you sell to a dealer.

Also, a lot of the time "patina" is preferred on sterling now and adds value. Check on what is common practice with your items - even with the silver services, you may not need to polish.
posted by Frowner at 7:49 PM on January 30, 2012

I agree with everyone above about not selling it as scrap, but if you end up with some stuff you do want to do that with, you might contact Rio Grande and see if they would be interested.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:48 PM on January 30, 2012

If I were you I'd make three categories. The first category is complete(ish) sets of cutlery. These are easy to value and sell pretty easily on Ebay or wherever. The second is individual pieces of cutlery and so forth that you can identify on one of the sites that helps people match incomplete sets. You can value those easily and either sell them yourself, or via one of those websites. The last is stuff that you can't identify. You should probably get those appraised, just in case.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:25 PM on January 30, 2012

I would be really careful about scammers on ebay, since sterling is easy to convert to cash. Probably safer to work with a reputable company, either locally, or on the web. When I sold a big thing via the web, I used for safety, and that worked well.
posted by theora55 at 9:02 AM on January 31, 2012

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