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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

The Collecting Of Old Silverware
(Part 3 Of 3)

The sale of old silver with forged hall-marks, which increase its value, while a dangerous proceeding, is known to be fairly common, especially in England, due to the rapid rise in value of old silverware during the past decade.

One way of counterfeiting old silver is to make a perfect copy of an old piece in some alloy, and give it a thick coating of silver by the modern electroplate process. Such counterfeits are treated with a good deal of skill, hall-marks and all being reproduced. On the bottom or inside of the piece may sometimes be found the granulated or crystallized surfaces left by this process, though these are usually tooled over if in sight.

Sometimes English hall-marks have been cut from a spoon or other small article of great age, and transferred to a larger piece of more modern make. Though cleverly done, the edges of the borrowed section can usually be detected by a magnifyingglass; sometimes sulphur fumes will show it; a blowpipe will almost always reveal the solder. While one cannot always make use of these tests, it should be borne in mind that a genuine hall-mark does not always serve as a guaranty of the piece that bears it.

There are, in general, two motives for forging hall-marks: first, to pass off inferior metal as standard; second, to make a piece appear to be older than it is. In the first case, if a piece is suspected, the base metal can be discovered by some method of assaying. In the second case the safest way is to study period styles as well as hall-marks, to see if they agree. A hall-mark of the year 1750 on a piece of silver of the style made in 1800 would be good ground for suspicion.

Another matter to study is the method of manufacture. The old Georgian silver was hand-made, and most of it shows hammer-marks on the inside of cups, tankards, etc. Look for these. Don't be misled by marks of wear and tear; they are easily counterfeited. Also study the color and appearance of old silver. An expert can tell the difference at a glance. There is a soft, white sheen on the old ware, the result of exposure and cleaning, which is strikingly different from a newly made piece of ware, no matter what the style of finish. Finally, study the relative position of the various marks as they appear on authentic pieces. They were not punched in at random, but had fixed positions. Counterfeiters have not often observed this. The general appearance of marks tells much. You will not find them uniformly clean and even in genuine pieces; they usually are exactly so in bogus pieces.

One way of increasing the value of old pieces of silver is by the method that in furniture is spoken of as "glorifying." That is, ornaments are sometimes soldered to old but plain pieces, or a plate or mug without decoration may be chased and engraved, and the value thus increased. The French are very clever at this. They sometimes bury the "glorified" piece or treat it with acids which oxidize the new parts and give them the appearance of age.A simple wash of acid is not often used now, as it can be quickly removed on the polishing -wheel, and is not a safe enough method. Your French antiquarian will also invent a thrilling pedigree for his beautiful old piece, in which a Spanish convent or a Duke of Burgundy usually figures.

It is still easier to forge the later English ware, and much of it is done. Sometimes clever transformations have been achieved by beating a plain saucepan or plates into a tankard or other more elaborate piece, leaving the hall-marks intact, and glorifying at will.

And so the wisest collectors have been deceived and we all take chances. There is no sure rule for determining what is genuine. The hints already given will help, and experience will do the rest. Always look for new parts, evidence of soldering, etc. Another point to be noted is that old spoons and forks of hammered metal can be easily bent at the handle; modern articles of cast silver are rigid.

Of course, not all additions are fraudulent "glorifications"; some are honest repairs. Some important pieces are thus patched, occasionally to the obliteration of a hall-mark.

I fancy, however, that not many of my readers will go into the collection of old silver very extensively, nor ever buy very much. If you do, it is possible to get pieces of old tableware, both useful and beautiful, which are unquestionably genuine. The best dealers in our large cities are thoroughly reliable. But you may always expect to pay a good round sum for what you get.

I imagine that most people are more interested in the preservation of a few old heirlooms than in the establishment of a large collection. I have told how the age of these old pieces may be determined. By diligent study of books and an examination of the maker's mark and town-mark, you may discover when the piece was made and by whom.

Now as to the actual money value of the piece. That is pretty hard to determine. It will never be less than the weight-value of the metal, but its market value will be determined by age, beauty of design, rarity of pattern, etc. Previous to 1902 the highest price ever paid was at the rate of $345 an ounce. The highest price since then, obtained for a piece of silver at Christie's, the famous London auction rooms, was $1,65o an ounce. On December 12, 1908, a James I goblet, a little over seven inches high, bearing the date-mark of 1606, and weighing six ounces twelve pennyweight, sold at Christie's for 600, and a smaller goblet, five and one-half inches high, dated 1608, was sold at the rate of 95 an ounce. Also a set of four circular salt-cellars was sold for 160 per ounce. On December 10, at the same house, a pair of Charles II candlesticks, eleven inches high, dated 1672, brought $7,100.

In this country a great variety of old articles in silver-too many to enumerate-are to be obtained in the shops and elsewhere-beautiful meat-platters, teapots, etc. The prices will usually seem high to the uninitiated, but the foregoing figures will give the reader an idea of the extent to which the present demand has advanced the values. Often fine pieces are to be bought at a lower rate, but good specimens almost always bring good prices. Your old silver is certainly valuable, however hard it may be to appraise it, and its value has been rapidly increasing.

I have not attempted, to give anything like a complete bibliography of the best works dealing with the subjects discussed, though in some cases I have mentioned a few worth knowing. On the subject of old furniture, for example, there are literally scores of books worth consulting and reading. For the sake of giving the reader a clue to the best sources of information on old silverware, however, particularly as regards full tables of hall-marks, I will append an abridged list of books that may be consulted by the amateur antiquarian who wishes to know more about the subject.

William Chaflers is one of the greatest authorities. He has written a big book on the subject-"HallMarks on Gold and Silver"-and also an abridged handbook edition which I have found very complete and comprehensive. It was published by Gibbings & Company, London, 1897.

Another huge book of great value is "Old London Silver," by Montague Howard, published by Batsford in London, in 1903. It is a volume of 400 pages, splendidly illustrated, showing many historic styles and forms. A full collection of makers' marks and hall-marks is given.

A great mass of facts is to be found in "Old Plate," by John Henry Buck. It contains many marks and is especially good on the old silver in this country.

Another exhaustive work is "Old English Plate," by Wilfred Joseph Cripps, published in igoi by John Murray, London. It is a book of 519 pages, and contains 2,600 marks. The same author wrote "Old French Plate" and "College and Corporation Plate."

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