Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Flight to Quality

During the last few months we have noticed that prices on finer items have been holding up quite well.

Major auction houses have managed to sell most of the important pieces of silver within the estimated range.

This has been most encouraging for both dealers and collectors. Watching some of the bidding one would never know that we were in a recession. However from an investment point of view it is far better to purchase a single significant piece rather than a group of pieces that are purchased because of reduced prices.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Saturday, August 16, 2008


Gorham was the world's largest manufacturer of silver in the late 19th century.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

London in the 1980s

Portobello Road
London has always been at the center of the antique silver business. Most of the major auction houses were started in Britain.

British Dealers are very astute and capable. Most of the dealers have been in the business for two, three and sometimes even four generations. The London dealers all form part of a large pyramid of dealers with a pecking order that one can hardly forget after being involved in the business over there.

As an outsider coming into the market from the USA, I learned that a buyer would have to be decisive in order to gain respect. There was also a fine line that I felt could not easily be crossed.
One Saturday morning at 6 am on Portobello Road, I knocked on a door of a shop seeing a group of dealers unpacking boxes inside the store. I saw heads shaking and fingers pointing at watches and knew that I was not welcome at that moment. The rules were made to keep insiders in after all.

I just happened to see a Gorham three piece mixed metal triangular shaped tea set on the floor and knew that that was the reason I was not admitted. The dealers knew what I would be interested in after all. I waited until the doors opened and ran after the dealer who had packed up the tea set.
I bought the tea set in the street at a profit to him.

That was the way it worked. I recovered my composure quickly and went on to have a good morning shopping.

The lesson here was not to begrudge a dealer a profit but to do business. He got out of bed for the same reason that morning... to earn a profit. I was looking for something glorious and specific to take back to the States and have something to offer to my customers.
Britannia Fine Silver

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Makers and styles

An example of a typical Tiffany serving piece shape and style

An experienced collector is usually able to pick out a style and identify a maker from across the room. Tiffany flatware, for example, had certain styles of bowls and tines that were adopted in most of their patterns. This made Tiffany flatware designs very distinctive, something that appealed to Tiffany collectors.

Shiebler designs in flatware and hollowware were at the forefront of design in the 1880's. The works of this maker are very sought after to this day because they are rare and unusual. The Shiebler designs certainly make an aesthete's mind come alive. One cannot look at great Shiebler and not use the imagination

Whiting had the strong influence of Tiffany's Charles Osborne who worked for both companies at different times. Wide use of nautical designs with sea creatures can be compared to Tiffany of the same period.

Elkington and Tiffany borrowed from each other. One should remember that the great Expositions of the late 19th century were a meeting place for designers from all countries. It would be tough to imagine a designer ignoring a successful design of a competitor just for the sake of being fair. Gorham and Barnard Brothers had almost the exact designs for their Japanese flatware of the 1870's.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Investing in Antique Silver

A rare Whiting American sterling silver pitcher with chased shells and applied crab

There are genuine collectors who want their silver to pass with them into the next world. These collectors purchase antique silver items because they like to look at it. It is passion that keeps them going.

I am asked about silver as an investment by a new collector, my advice is usually to buy for enjoyment first but also appreciate the fact that the items have an intrinsic value built into them. When one gets to a level where one can afford to set aside the money to buy silver without sacrificing other things, then one can look around for art investment. It is really the same as for any other investment. You need to be able to afford to do it comfortably.
I was listening to Warren Buffet talking about what he thought was a good investment and he mentioned that his rule of thumb was so clear cut - if, when you purchase something, you have an idea that the value of the item is higher than what you are about to pay, you can consider it a good investment. I think this applies to our business as well. While it might be considered a poor reflection on the dealer who may be selling an item below the true value, one should always remember that everyone has a different perception of the value and stature of a piece.
In most cases, when I have purchased a piece that was almost above my head in importance and price, it has paid off nicely because someone else has realised the potential of the piece and stepped up for it when I offered it for sale at a later date.


As a former stamp collector while growing up, I was always obsessed with the acquisition of the finest items in the finest condition. When the day came to sell, it was as if I was holding a fine piece of property. I walked into a dealer in London and he took a look at the first few examples of what I had. He handed me a pencil and paper and told me to write down and add up the catalog values. He paid me with a smile. The lesson is simply to buy the best and take the time to select examples in condition that will excite a potential buyer later when you might want to sell.

As an investor you need to study and put effort into your collecting to safeguard the value.

As a collector it will always please you to look at something in perfect sharp condition rather than look at something tired and worn.

Patina and Cleaning Antique Silver

An example of good patination on a repousse tea caddy By S Kirk.

Patina is really a myriad of fine scratches overlapping to form a fine textured surface. This surface or finish is really most desirable on an old piece of silver because it gives the silver the soft color that collectors seek.
Never use petroleum based polishes on your good silver. They are usually harsh and scar the metal surface. Unless you have a lifetime to wait to restore patina through general use and exposure you should try not to have anything professionally cleaned. Exceptions to this would be if a good silversmith wants to restore your silver and they have to use these methods to put a finish on a piece after working on it.
A good brand of silver polish in the form of foam or cream would be the best for cleaning antique silver. It would remove the least silver and these polishes have a silicone or wax to form a seal of protection from the atmosphere. These work best with hot water. The silver should always be left out to air dry before storing.