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Private Silver Collectors And Family Pieces

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Having read about silver, seen it in museums and perhaps in a few private collections, the average person invariably asks, "How can I hope to collect any antique silver today?" Certainly it can be done if you have time, patience, some money to spend, and do not expect to get the rarest and earliest pieces, most of which are in museums or private collections: However, there are still early, rare, and practically unknown pieces in families that have had them for generations, and someday they will pass on to another than the present owner, and it may be you. So there is hope. Part of the joy of collecting is in finding the unexpected. Perhaps in some relative's house there are early christening spoons being used for jelly, or old tablespoons in a kitchen drawer.

Many collectors start with interest in an heirloom which for years they took for granted, but which appears in a new light when compared with a piece in a museum or a shop. It may be a family teapot, a spoon, or a porringer which suggests the beginning of a set of spoons or a tea set or another porringer, to make a pair.

Families often buy silver for gifts, adding to a collection on special occasions. Sometimes parents buy silver for children while they are little and add to it when they marry. One family during the last ten years tried to get together two fine American tea sets for two small daughters. Now when one is married, her set is all complete. Perhaps today it might not be easy to get a complete set just when it is needed. It is best to buy a piece when it comes on the market; too many rarities have been lost through waiting. First learn about what you have in the family and develop a working knowledge of silver before you buy. You will keep learning, but you should know something about designs and makers before you buy even a single piece.

Mr.and Mrs. Stanley B. Ineson, of Manchester, Vermont, who have more than two thousand antique silver spoons, started with some old spoons they inherited. They grew interested in the various types and before they knew it they were adding to the family silver. Fortunately they learned all they could about spoons and silversmiths and have bought wisely, but the collection started in a modest way.

It is still possible to get together a good silver tea set, one piece at a time. Sometimes with patience and the help of a reliable dealer you can get pieces all by one maker, but remember complete tea sets, as we know them today, were not common until late in the eighteenth century. Still it is possible to get pieces of the same general style that go well together though they were made by different craftsmen. Naturally it is better to have pieces by one maker, but even original sets were often by different makers, the pieces being added at various times. The important thing is to have them of the same general design and workmanship.

You can still get a good teapot, small bowls for waste, creamers, sugar bowls with and without covers, or even those little open sugar baskets, popular in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Many families have old silver spoons and these are suitable, if in period, to use with the tea settings. Trays for American tea sets have always been a problem. Few were made here and many fine American sets have been found with a tray of English silver or a good early Sheffield plate. If you have a family tea set of early workmanship and good quality, let a reliable dealer in antique silver advise you about the type of tray to use.

Good American spoons from 1775 to 1825 are still to be had and they make a fine collection both for use and enjoyment. There is always the possibility of finding some of those lovely little eighteenth-century teaspoons, many with brightcut engraving or a feather edge for decoration. Some of the larger spoons, dessert and table size, are also lovely to own. There are ladles of all sizes by good makers, sugar tongs with engraved designs, bowls of all sizes, and pitchers, large and small. There are all types of mugs, wonderful baby gifts which can be passed along from one generation to another. There are even knives and forks of the early nineteenth century, some of them with tne Sheaf-of-Wheat and Basket-ofFlowers designs found on spoons of ihe same period. Many collectors try to find knives, forks, and spoons with these designs by one maker. It has been done.

You can still get a good teapot, small bowls for waste, creamers, sugar bowls with and without covers, or even those little open sugar baskets, popular in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Many families have old silver spoons and these are suitable, if in period, to use with the tea settings. Trays for American tea sets have always been a problem. Few were made here and many fine American sets have been found with a tray of English silver or a good early Sheffield plate. If you have a family tea set of early workmanship and good quality, let a reliable dealer in antique silver advise you about the type of tray to use.

Good American spoons from 1775 to 1825 are still to be had and they make a fine collection both for use and enjoyment. There is always the possibility of finding some of those lovely little eighteenth-century teaspoons, many with brightcut engraving or a feather edge for decoration. Some of the larger spoons, dessert and table size, are also lovely to own. There are ladles of all sizes by good makers, sugar tongs with engraved designs, bowls of all sizes, and pitchers, large and small. There are all types of mugs, wonderful baby gifts which can be passed along from one generation to another. There are even knives and forks of the early nineteenth century, some of them with cne Sheaf-of-Wheat and Basket-ofFlowers designs found on spoons of khe same period. Many collectors try to find knives, forks, and spoons with these designs by one maker. It has been done.

Much silver not in public or private collections but used in households is part of a family set that has been separated during the years. Heirs often divide silver, even splitting up the pieces of tea sets and the sets of spoons into small groups. Sometimes it is possible to get back silver from some member of the family who prefers money or modern silver, or maybe a television set! In this way separated pieces can be brought together once more. Collectors often have to do a bit of sleuthing and they have to have plenty of patience and tact. In fact the true collector has to learn a lot of things, including the reasons why our ancestors did as they did, and there is no short road to knowledge of old silver any more than to any other subject. It takes time, interest, and the assistance of good friends in museums, of persons with like interests, and most important, the help of a reliable long established dealer in old silver.