SMART COLLECTOR

When, where and who matters in coin silver flatware

Posted July 15, 2011, at 6:18 p.m.

Q: Several decades ago, I collected coin silver flatware. I have 135 pieces, including forks, a butter knife, different size scoops, teaspoons, tablespoons and serving pieces. Total weight is 9 pounds. The oldest piece is dated Jan. 19, 1797, and others have dates of 1834, 1860 and 1875. How do I sell the collection? Or, given the current price of silver, should I just sell it for scrap? Suggestions?

A: Smart collectors know that in the earliest days of our country, colonists would do anything to avoid buying British. So for flatware, they took silver coins to a tinker or silversmith and had pieces made.

Because some coins were foreign and there was then no standardization of silver content, flatware made from those coins was a mish-mosh of all kinds of silver. Molded into plain and basic shapes, it was also nothing fancy.

Reid Dunavant, a longtime silver collector and senior vice president of the auction house Doyle New York, www.doylenewyork.com, told us that today, coin silver flatware is “more esoteric” but less collected than sterling.

Currently director of Doyle’s Washington D.C. branch, Dunavant adds that because of rarity, coin silver flatware made before 1800 is most collected. Sparsely populated at the time, the U.S. had few silversmiths and little flatware was made.

As the Northeast became populated, more local tinkers and smiths made flatware. Because more from that region exists today and demand is less, value for post-1820 pieces is basically scrap.

But as with many rules of collecting, there are exceptions. Dunavant adds that later pieces from the South or West are worth five to 10 times flatware from the Northeast, because of rarity.

As example, a circa 1820-50s coin silver tablespoon from Charleston sells for about $300 today. The same spoon from Boston is $30-$40 or scrap. Teaspoons are most common.

“Even modest houses had teaspoons,” said Dunavant. Forks are rarer and table knives are “exceedingly uncommon.” Serving pieces are more uncommon than teaspoons but less so than table knives made of soft silver that did not last.

Another exception is ornate Victorian coin silver flatware. Fancily made, it is popular with collectors.

Bottom line, value for our reader depends on when and where his coin silver flatware was made, and if it is by known regional makers. The collection’s 54 teaspoons could be scrap or very desirable, depending on where and when they were made.

Selling the entire collection on your own “will take a lot of time and energy,” Dunavant surmises. The process may be easier if pieces are sold online by the piece or bundled.

Before deciding how to sell, check eBay for current auctions. Don’t forget to look at prices in completed sales. Also check the free site www.liveauctioneers.com for completed auction results. If you like the results you see there, contact the auction houses that brought home the sales.

Q: Any information about my small Mickey and Minnie Mouse fork and spoon set received in 1932? The back is stamped “Winthrop Silver Plate.”

A: We found a similar child’s set for sale online priced at $30. A buyer would want the cartoon figures on the handles to still be detailed with no signs of wear. Measuring about 4 inches high, the sets date from the 1930s.

Q: My great-grandmother bought these pink dolphin candlesticks in the early 1900s. They are supposed to be the first pressing of Sandwich glass. I saw them in yellow and blue in a museum years ago, and I was told that pink is the rarest. Any information?

A: Glass candlesticks in the shape of upright dolphins with a candleholder at top and a base at the bottom were made by many glassworks. In this country, the Boston and Sandwich Glass Co. is thought to have been the first to produce them.

By the 1860s, many New England glassmakers had the popular form in production. In time, Heisey, Cambridge, Fostoria, Imperial and others all made dolphin candlesticks. Some made several versions.

The candlestick seen in an image sent has a bell bottom. The Sandwich original had a step bottom. See it offered as a reproduction on www.sandwichglassmuseum.org.

The story about Sandwich’s first pressing and pink being rarest is incorrect. I suspect family lore.

Everything about this stick, from shape to base to color, suggests reproduction. Waves of similar dolphin candlesticks made in the Far East were common in the 1970s and 80s. Today, they sell for about $30.

For another opinion, take it for a look-see when a local glass collector’s group has a show and sale.

Auction Action: A Tiffany Studios table lamp with a peony shade that brought $94,875 recently at James D. Julia featured red and pink peonies against a mottled yellow background. About 25 inches tall, the lamp has a shade of 18 inches in diameter. The base is Tiffany’s onion base with four feet. Both shade and base are signed.

Collector Quiz: How did the 925 designation become a standard for sterling silver? What does it mean?

A: American companies conformed to the silver standard around 1870. By 1904, the .925 mark was required. The decimal was later dropped. The mark means that silver is 92.5 percent pure. Based on 100 parts sterling, the piece is 925 parts silver to 75 parts alloy, most often copper.

Danielle Arnet welcomes questions from readers. She cannot respond to each one individually, but will answer those of general interest in her column. Send email to smartcollector@comcast.net or write Danielle Arnet, c/o Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1400, Chicago, IL 60611. Please include an address in your query. Photos cannot be returned.

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