What collecting and other trends do you see for objects made of silver
inDecember 13, 2012 - 1:04pm
I remember when Nelson Bunker Hunt and his brother William Herbert Hunt attempted to corner the silver market in late 1979 and 1980. Silver, which sold for $11 per ounce in September 1979, jumped to $50 per ounce by January 1980. Two months later, the price returned to $11 per ounce.
During the height of the craze, coin and jewelry dealers were buying as much silver as they could at melt price. Antique sterling and coin silver flatware and hollowware flooded into the melt market. Buyers were shipping silver to the smelter on a daily basis to take advantage of price fluctuations.
I contacted several coin dealers asking if I could buy the eighteenth and early nineteenth century pieces that came across their counter at a 20% premium. All refused. They had no interest in holding their purchases long enough for me to sort through them.
At the time, a friend asked me to find a buyer for her silver coinage. I was able to sell it for her at 28 times face. She was thrilled.
Today with the melt value of silver over $30 per ounce, silver coinage, flatware, and hollowware is more likely to be sold for melt than working its way into the antiques and collectibles marketplace. Unless it is a desirable pattern, a silver flatware service sold at auction typically sells at or below melt value.
Individuals, especially those under 50, no longer set a formal table. If used at all, the family sterling silver flatware service appears on holidays and special occasions. Otherwise, it remains in a chest in a buffet drawer or a china chest.
In 1997, I authored, supported by data from Replacements, Ltd., a series of three books identifying the top dinnerware, stemware, and silverware patterns. Silverware of the 20th Century: The Top 250 Patterns (House of Collectibles) included sterling, plated, and stainless patterns. One of the features was a pattern ranking in blocks of 50. When individuals asked me what they should buy or dealers what they should sell, my advice never varied: “Stick to the Top 50 patterns. The rest are tough.”
There are only a select number of flatware (silverware) patterns that are collectible. Most are not. Their fate is melt. Further, individuals seeking patterns are more likely to do so to complete or expand an existing flatware service than “collect” the pattern.
Sterling flatware and hollowware have three strikes against them. First, they are not dishwasher safe. Second, silver requires polishing. Even the Southern aristocratic ladies no longer maintain a tea service on the dining room buffet. They have no interest in polishing it nor does their hired help. Third, antique and collectibles sterling is expensive. In order to preserve it, the buyer has to pay a premium over melt.
New silver plating techniques which preserve the period decorative detail of Victorian and early 20th century pieces have led to a renaissance of interest in some of these pieces, particularly certain forms such as napkin rings and calling card holders. However, the cost to clean and re-plate often exceeds the secondary market value of the re-plated piece. Hence, most re-plated pieces have a strong family connection.
Seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth century antiques silver, especially British, European, and Russian pieces continues to enjoy strong collector interest. Prices for American hollowware pieces from the same period are stable. However, coin silver flatware spoons, even from big city silversmiths, sell for only a slight premium over melt.
The Modernist movement has drawn attention to Scandinavian silver, especially pieces by Georg Jensen. Flatware prices are rising. The same applies to sterling silver jewelry by Jensen and other identifiable Scandinavian makers.
The brand name collecting craze impacts the antique and collectible silver markets. Any piece marked “Tiffany commands a premium price. Just the opposite is true for the old guard brands such as Gorham or Kirk Steiff. The aristocratic/country club generations that grew up valuing these latter brands are now of advanced age. Their grandchildren no longer care.
When I was first married in 1962, our bridal register included sterling silver flatware, bone china dinnerware, and crystal stemware. When was the last time you were invited to a wedding where this was the case. Today, the bride is most likely registered at Crate and Barrel or Pottery Barn.
Silver collecting is regional. Antique American, English, and European silver sells better in New England than anywhere else in the United States. The Arts and Crafts silver market is centered in Boston and Chicago. Regional pieces sell best in their region of origin. No one in California gives a hoot about a coin silver spoon made by a Bethlehem, Pennsylvania silversmith.
Finally, I am a realistic. I am far more likely to recommend an individual sell their silver content coinage, flatware, and hollowware for melt than attempt to market it on the antiques and collectibles second market. Occasionally, I do find a piece that belongs in the secondary market. However, the percentage of my finds where this applies diminishes each year.
What is the attraction for collecting vintage medical-related products?
Instead of a standard stock answer, I am going to suggest the attraction is because they have a perverse sense of humor potential. Vintage medical-related products are fun, provocative, and laughable.
Occasionally, when Linda is busy preparing for a party and forgets to keep an eye on me, I put a few rectal examiners on the coffee table in the living. Inevitably, a guest will pick one up and ask, “What is this?” Once this occurs, I am off. I deliver a short lecture on the history of rectal examiners, a subject about which most are ignorant but have a perverse satisfaction in learning once my lectures starts. The highlight is my picking up a rectal examiner and providing a visual demonstration of how tit works.
Home remedies and quack medical products also are perfect display pieces. I made certain to take my collection of rectal expanders to my new home in Michigan. If you do not know how these work, you can learn about them on the internet. They are usually found in sets of four. The period box adds 25 percent or more to the value. Do not confuse the home remedy boxed set with an antique rectal surgery kit. They are two different things.
During one of my lectures, someone in the audience said “You are full of shit,” an expression I heard more than once. After one such remark, I had a “light bulb” moment. If true, I needed a laxative box collection. I quickly assembled a collection containing over 50 examples. Whenever possible, I tried to buy bottles or tubes still filled with pills or some gooey substance. I also have a collection of toy manure spreaders, but the story behind it is best left for another occasion.
Over the years, I have a number of odds and ends medical instruments and products. I own several lances, although I refused to acquire a leech jar to go with them. I also own several early teeth pulling devices, only because I love demonstrating how they were used.
The attraction for vintage metal related products is simple. Collectors love the odd, the weird, and the unusual. While “normal” tools to a doctor or dentist or over the counter sale to a pharmacist, they are not to the average person. Finally, some of the stuff is just plain neat – more than ample reason to own it.
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