Is your silver too valuable to scrap?

There was an article in last Sunday’s Irish Independent about  the scrapping of valuable silver items. It was great to see this highlighted in a national paper. I have heard stories of valuable Irish silver works of art being sold for scrap as their true value was never investigated.

While an old scratched  silver spoon might seem only to be worth the weight of silver you might discover you have a collectors item. As all silver has a hallmark it is easy to find out if it is worth considerably more.

Unless ‘Antiques Roadshow’ is in town, checking the value of your silver sounds like a long and complicated process! So here’s a few simple tricks to examine your silverware.

Firstly, Is it silver? Many people over or under estimate the value of their silver. Most commonly they will see a hallmark and assume it’s solid silver. Unfortunatley this isn’t always the case and hallmarks are always better examined with a magnifying glass to read exactly what has been stamped. Some tea sets for example will be stamped with what looks to be a hallmark but on closer inspection will have the letters EPNS. This means that it is not solid silver but Electro Plated Nickel Silver ie. silver plated.

Once you have established that it is silver then look at the hallmark to decipher the country of origin. Here in Ireland it is more likely to have come from either Britain or Ireland. There are a number of assay offices in Britain all with different stamps so if you can make out an emblem like a rose or a lion it is most likely British. I would say before you start buying silver hallmark books the best way to find out what your hallmark means is to Google it! It’s surprising how much information comes up if you put in something as vague as ‘Lion Hallmark’

Then find out who made it. This is the mark that will most likely determine the value of your silver. The more collectible and well known the maker the more money for you! In the hallmark the first mark is the makers mark. The makers mark is made up of the initials of the company or individual. So in my case my makers mark is ‘EM’ for Eileen Moylan.

Again the best way to find out about the maker of your silver is to Google it. Here’s what I found when I put in ‘EM hallmark silver’ I’m just showing a section of the first result. Make sure to look at the shape of the punch so you can match it exactly. You can see from this image that there are a few EM’s differentiated by the shape.

From this you can find the full name of the maker and then search and see what is being written about them, like how much their work is going for.

And once you’ve done all that you can make an informed decision as to whether to scrap your silver or not!

 

 

 

 

 

Silver Napkin Rings

My Hallmark
My Hallmark

This week I’m finishing an order for a set of silver napkin rings. The napkin ring are a simple set of six rings, the only decoration being the hallmark. In my rush to get the order filled I forgot to take photos of the first few stage of the making. I’ll go quickly through what I’ve done already but if you want to see my post on making a silver ring click here. The process is pretty much the same but on a larger scale!

There was a delay in receiving the silver I ordered so I lost a few days of making but thankfully I’m back on schedule. I started by cutting six lengths of silver. I ordered a strip of silver 25mm wide and 1mm thick so all I had to do was cut this strip into six lengths. From napkin rings I’ve made in the past I know that I want the diameter to be between 40-45mm. So I need to work out how long each strip of silver needs to be. Thankfully I remember enough of school maths to know that the circumference of a circle is calculated by multiplying the diameter by Pi (3.14)

So circumference = 3.14 (Pi) x 43mm. So each strip is 135mm in length. These strips are then rounded up on a stake into a rough circle. It doesn’t have to be perfect as the hammering done after they are soldered will give them the perfect round shape. The most important thing at this stage is to get the two ends of the silver sitting perfectly together. The better they meet the tidier your soldering joint will be. Once they are soldered I begin hammering them into their finished shape. Once I’m happy I give them a quick polish and send them off for hallmarking. As there is only one assay office in Ireland they get sent to the Irish assay office in Dublin Castle.

And here they are, back from hallmarking and ready to be finished.

Sterling Silver Napkin Rings back from Hallmarking
Sterling Silver Napkin Rings back from Hallmarking
Silver Napkin Rings (before polishing)
Silver Napkin Rings (before polishing)

 

 

 

Cork Silver Part 1

Premises of William Egan and Sons, 32 Patrick St, Cork
Premises of William Egan and Sons, 32 Patrick St, Cork

Last month I spoke briefly about Cork Republican silver and promised to come back to the subject. Seeing the queen being presented with a brooch of Cork silver last week reminded me, so I pulled out John Bowen’s book on Cork silver to make sure I had my facts straight.

Since this is such a huge area I’ve split it into two posts, before I go into the period of Republican Silver in the 1920’s I’ll give a brief background into silver in Cork. Like many provincial cities in Ireland, Cork has a great history of silver.

In 1637 under the Royal Charter of Charles I the Company of Goldsmiths of Dublin was established. Under this body hallmarking became compulsory and all precious metal items produced  in Ireland were to be sent to the Assay Office  in Dublin for hallmarking. If you want to know more about hallmarking you can read my article here.

The Dublin silversmiths complied with the assay office and sent their goods to be hallmarked but most provincial silversmiths ignored the laws. The practical issues when transporting the goods such as robberies and delays rendered the law impossible for most silversmiths around the country. It’s a pity so much silver produced around the country can’t ever be properly traced or dated. Although my sympathy goes out to the rebellious silversmiths. The last thing you want after putting all those hours of making in, is to have the piece lost or delayed. Thankfully swiftpost has overcome the problem of the highway men!

To avoid being fined by the Company of Goldsmiths Dublin the Cork silversmiths did their best to comply to the hallmarking laws. They would try to send some of their wrought silver to Dublin for Assay. In turn the CGD recognised that the Cork silversmiths were policing their own trade and there is no records of a Cork goldsmith being fined in the 18th century for working with below standard silver.

During this time the city of Cork petitioned heavily to have an Assay office established in the city. They watched English provincial towns succeed in establishing their own assay offices and hoped to achieve the same independence. Unfortunately they were unsuccessful in their campaign and so high numbers of provincial silver continued to be sold without an official hallmark.

UCC Mace , part of the UCC Silver Collection
UCC Mace by William Egan and Sons Cork

Cork continued to produce silver but by the 1800’s the trade had largely died out in the city. In 1910 the President of the University College Cork, Sir Bertram Windle, commissioned William Egan and Sons to make a ceremonial silver mace for the college. They had been made a constituent college of the National University of Ireland under the Universities Act of 1908 and Windle wanted the mace to reflect this new status.  The only stipulation was that the piece would be made entirely in Cork. Since the decline in skills William Egan had to bring silversmtihs down from Dublin to make the mace. As part of this arrangement he hired a number of local boys  from the North Monastery school as apprentices to the silversmiths thus passing these skills onto locals. A condition of their employment was that they would have to attend drawing classes at the School of Art and from this the craft of silversmithing was revived in Cork. Egans continued to produce hand wrought silver items until it closed it’s doors in 1986. The range and quality of the work which was produced by Egans in the twentieth century was remarkable and continues to be much sought after by collectors.

The locals continued to be employed at Egans and through a turbulent period in Irish history they would be responsible for what is now referred to as Republican silver.

Part two coming soon…

 

 

Images from J. Bowen Book, Cork Silver and Gold: Four Centuries of Craftsmanship