You’ve had the family silver collecting dust in your closet for years. And though you’ve promised yourself, one holiday after another, that this would be the year you finally polished the silver, you’ve come to recognize that you think of your silver as more of a chore than a treasured family heirloom.
So, you’ve decided that you’re going to sell your silver. There’s just one catch: you don’t know anything about selling silver.
Before you dart to the nearest search engine and look up “where can I sell silver near me?” it helps to know what you’re doing. Know how to value your silver before you start a conversation with a buyer so that you know you’re getting a good rate.
We know silver. So, we’ve compiled everything you need to know about selling silver, from why people want to buy it to how to assess the value of your silver.
Why People Want to Buy Silver
Before you consider selling the family silver, it pays (literally) to think about why selling your silver might be worth it. There are two sides to this question: why someone might be eager to buy your silver from you and why you might decide to part with it.
The truth is, there are many reasons why silver is a worthwhile investment for buyers. To you, it’s grandma’s silver. But to a buyer, silver is so much more than that.
It’s Real Money
For one thing, silver is real money.
No, we’re not talking about Monopoly money. Silver isn’t part of our currency, but it is still very much money. In fact, silver and gold remain the most dependable form of money.
This is for one simple reason: unlike paper money, which treasuries can print anytime they like, silver and gold don’t appear out of thin air, and we only have fixed amounts of them. Because treasuries can print money as they like, paper money appreciates and depreciates in value all the time.
Silver and gold, on the other hand, have proven their value for century upon century.
For one thing, silver doesn’t carry any counterparty risk, i.e. if you hold physical silver, you don’t need another party to make good on a contract. That silver has value, even if the value fluctuates somewhat due to the silver market. No other investment works this way.
Similarly, silver carries no default risk for investors. Again, no other investment works this way.
Physical Silver is a Hard Asset
We live in a time when everything is ethereal. Think about it.
As of August 5, 2020, there is about $1.95 trillion worth of Federal Reserve notes in circulation. That sounds like a lot of money until you realize that the U.S. GDP is around $21.44 trillion.
Remember, money and cash are two different things. The GDP reflects the total money value of the economy, whereas the total number of Federal Reserve notes in circulation reflects the current amount of hard cash in circulation. Most of the value attached to your name is in money, not cash.
For investors, hard physical assets like silver are useful because you can carry them with you. Silver is a concrete item with real physical value. It’s a tangible hedge in an intangible world, and investors are finding that to be an increasingly attractive proposition.
Silver Outperforms Gold in Bull Markets
Silver is a lot like the Rodney Dangerfield of precious metals–it can’t get no respect, especially standing next to its yellow metal cousin. In reality, silver should get far more respect than gold, no matter what gold bugs may protest.
Unlike gold, which was historically used for big payments only, silver was the metal of the everyman, handled every day to be used in everyday payments. And because attention usually focuses on gold, not silver, silver is actually a much smaller market.
This is actually great news for sellers like you. A smaller market means that even a little movement at the margin makes a difference. In other words, new dollars invested in silver can drive up the price a lot more than the same amount of money invested in gold.
This means, historically, that silver has consistently outperformed gold in bull markets. In other words, in a bull market, i.e. conditions where the market is expected to rise, silver consistently outperforms gold, which translates to better returns for silver sellers and a better chance that the value of silver will go up as demand for silver rises.
World Demand is Growing…
And to be clear, demand for silver is definitely rising.
For one thing, silver has long been useful as an industrial metal and has grown in popularity in recent years. It is electrically conductive, thermally conductive, and reflective.
For everyday buyers, however, silver is more familiar as a material for jewelry–and what a great material it is. It’s lustrous but resilient, responds well to sculpting, and requires minimal care. It also has a much greater shine and can achieve the most brilliant polish of any metal.
…And Inventories are Falling
On the flipside, world inventories of silver are declining, which is great news for sellers like you–in essence, it’s a seller’s market.
Traditionally, governments held inventories of silver for use as hard currency. But these days, government inventories of silver are going down. In fact, only three countries continue to hold silver inventories: the United States, Mexico, and India, and even those three countries have dramatically reduced their silver stockpiles.
This is largely because governments no longer use silver in coinage. However, silver usage is going up in industry, and silver remains popular among buyers. And as previously noted, because silver is a smaller market than gold, any marginal investment in the market translates into notable gains for sellers.
The Two Reasons You Should Sell Silver
Of course, as a seller, you’re not necessarily thinking about the markets. For you, your silver isn’t a physical asset.
Chances are, your silver is a beloved family treasure. It’s your grandma’s silverware, your mother’s jewelry. It’s your great-grandmother’s beloved tea set, the silverware passed down for generations, an uncle’s dishes or an aunt’s favorite necklace.
For you, silver is personal. And that means selling silver is personal. That’s why, most of the time, there are two good reasons to sell your silver.
You’ve Been Holding Onto Silver for a While
The first reason is that you’ve been holding onto your silver for a while. Note the phrasing: not passing down your silver for a while, but holding onto it.
This isn’t silver you use every day, and for good reason. You don’t want to tarnish your grandma’s silverware with everyday use, and most of the time, the occasion isn’t equal to the silver. The same thing goes for a beloved necklace you don’t want to tarnish, or a grandfather’s silver watch that doesn’t fit or isn’t your style.
The point is, you tend to keep your silver in a box somewhere. You don’t use it that often, if at all.
And if, at this point, your silver is just something that lives in a box and only leaves the closet when you move houses, it might be time to let go of your silver.
You Don’t Want the Silver Anymore
The second reason is simple, and related to the first: you just don’t want your silver anymore.
There are any number of reasons for this, but a lot of the time, it’s because you don’t use your silver enough to justify holding onto it. Most of the time, you forget you even have silver.
On the other hand, if you’ve only recently come into your silver through the loss of a loved one and you’re trying to sort through the details of their property, your silver might be just one more thing to deal with. You don’t need the silver, and you don’t want it.
And that point, it’s time to part with your silver and get value from it that does you some good.
Factors Affecting the Price of Your Silver
If either of these sound like they fit your situation, it’s time to think about selling your silver.
However, before you type “sell silver near me” into the closest search engine, it pays to take a breath and think about it. Yes, even if you’ve made up your mind to sell your silver.
If you want to get a good value for your silver, you have to know what you’re signing up for. That means understanding the price of your silver–and what factors influence the price of your silver. Here’s a look at a few of the main factors.
Current Price of Silver (and Why Silver Prices Change)
The biggest factor is the current price of silver or spot price of silver, i.e. the current price on the precious metals marketplace at which an ounce of silver can be sold. The current spot price changes all the time for any number of reasons, including:
- Inflation or deflation
- Changes in supply in demand
- Fluctuating economic expectations
The moral of the story is that it’s difficult to tell what the price of silver will be in the future, and predicting it is a fool’s errand on the hunt for fool’s gold. The best you can do is keep an eye on the silver market.
Age, Rarity, and Monograms
Like other precious commodities, every piece of silver has its own set of quirks that change its relative value. These can be boiled down to three key points:
The older your silver and the better-preserved it is, the more likely it is to be rare. In addition, patterns come in and out of popularity, and some patterns are harder to find than others, partially as a function of how old they are. Collectors looking to complete their sets will pay more for less common patterns or patterns created prior to 1920.
Then there’s the issue of monograms. While monograms make a piece uniquely your own, they also, well, they make it uniquely your own, which makes it a bit awkward for someone to buy it from you and explain to someone else why there’s a random set of initials on it.
Professionals can cover up monograms, but as a rule, be aware that monograms will make it harder for you to sell your silver on the private market. Not impossible, but definitely more difficult.
Individual Pieces vs. Complete Setting
Last but not least is the question of individual pieces versus a complete setting.
As a rule, collectors are more likely to buy a complete setting to round out their collection, rather than buying a random fork or knife. That doesn’t mean you can’t sell individual silverware (collectors can often buy forks, spoons, and knives for an individual price per piece) but they’re more likely to purchase a complete set in one swoop.
However, forks, knives, and spoons are quite easy for collectors to come by, so those sets will fetch a lower value even if they’re complete. If you have complete tableware sets (i.e. everything other than forks, knives, and spoons) you have a rarer set and can ask more for it. Tableware includes things like:
- Hostess sets
- Carving fork sets
- Knife sets
- Bar sets
- Demitasse spoons
- Cocktail forks
All of these sets are rarer and harder to find, which means they go for more than your average place setting.
What’s a Fair Price?
Of course, these are all factors affecting the price. That doesn’t automatically determine what a fair price is for your silver. In that respect, two factors affect what constitutes a fair price:
- The type of bullion or type of piece you’re selling
- How much of it you’re trying to sell
These are two factors that will always implicitly change the valuation of your silver, regardless of the current price, age, rarity, or whether you’re selling settings or jewelry.
Type of Piece
To be clear, bullion and the type of piece are two different things. Bullion is gold or silver officially recognized as 99.5% pure and is in the form of bars or ingots. It’s usually kept as reserve assets by governments and central banks, though some people have individual pieces of bullion.
As a rule, bullion will fetch a higher price because, as noted above, it’s almost completely pure silver. It does depend on the demand for bullion at the time, but you still have a solid piece of silver.
Along similar lines, bullion bars tend to resell well, especially those kept in professional vault storage. Bullion bars produced by the most reputable mints have the highest resale value and are typically distinguished by the seal of the origin mint and a serial number for easy identification and certification.
Silver coins typically resell well, though they’re less common than gold coins. Because sovereign coins (i.e. government-issued coins) are universally-recognized legal tender, they can be resold without delay. The retail market for coins is also more active than bars or jewelry, which means you’ll always be able to find a buyer.
This brings us to the question of jewelry, which is what most sellers have on hand. As a rule, it’s difficult to resell silver jewelry for the original value. That’s because most silver jewelry is an alloy, which means refiners have to melt it down before they can repurpose it for coins, bars, or even different jewelry. In translation, the value of jewelry is often subjective. Silver coins are traded as such and don’t have to be melted down.
How Much You’re Selling
Then there’s the question of how much you’re selling. The more you sell, the more you’ll get for your silver.
The simplest way to calculate the value of your silver is to multiply the ounces of silver by the current spot price. Keep in mind, however, that the purity of the silver changes its value–if you’re selling certified silver bullion, i.e. certified pure silver, you’ll likely be able to fetch more per ounce than silverware or jewelry that’s more likely to be a silver alloy.
This brings us to the question of identifying your silver, especially if you’re trying to sell silverware or tableware sets.
If you’re thinking, “Hey, wait, I already know my setting is silver, why do I need to identify it?” here’s a hint: it may not be pure silver. And as previously noted, the purity of silver translates to the amount of silver in the piece relative to everything else, and the more silver there is, the higher the value of the piece.
Typically, silverware falls into two categories:
- Sterling silver
Here’s how to identify both.
Silverplate is the term for items that undergo an electrical process coating a thin layer of silver to a base metal. The outside of the piece looks like silver (or rather, the outside is silver) but the core of the piece is a different metal altogether, usually copper or brass.
This is a historical relic of value practicality and consumer economics.
Post-WWII, every housewife wanted to entertain in style, which meant silver accessories. The problem was that not every household could afford solid silver accessories. The solution for most households was silverplate, which has the appearance of silver but is much cheaper than solid silver.
In translation, look at the bottom of each piece. If it has any of the following, it’s a smokescreen for silverplate meant to confuse and excite dinner guests:
- International Silver
- Sheffield Silver
- Triple plate
- Quadruple plate
Or, in plain English: if it doesn’t say sterling silver on the bottom, it’s not sterling silver and what you have is silverplate. Alternately, if your pieces are English or European, look for a lion stamp or numbers like 925, 900, or 800–that’s the percentage numbers for the quantity of silver.
Identifying Sterling Silver
To be clear, sterling silver isn’t pure silver either. Sterling silver is so titled because it’s a silver alloy with 92.5% purity, meaning it’s 92.5% silver and 7.5% another metal added to make the silver more durable, typically copper, nickel, or zinc.
For jewelry and silverware, sterling silver is the gold standard (er, silver standard) because pure silver is too soft to be usable in silverware and jewelry-making. As such, other metals are added to make it more durable.
American silver made after 1850 will almost always have one of two things stamped on it: “sterling” or the number “925” (the percentage of silver) along with a pictorial or initial which serves as the maker’s mark. European silver is a bit more complicated, and British silver is its own beast.
British silver is its own animal because it has hallmarking dating to the 14th century, which makes a mess of things even if you don’t have 14th century British silver sitting in your china cabinet. As a rule, British silver manufactured after 1700 has four hallmarks:
- The lion passant mark (the sterling silver guarantee, replaced by the thistle or the harp in Edinburgh and Ireland respectively)
- The town mark (for example, London’s town mark is a leopard’s head)
- A date letter from A to Z
- The maker’s mark, usually the initials of the silversmith
Continental silver, such as pieces made in France, Germany, or Italy, have a whole different set of marks based on the country of origin. For example, if you see a crown and a crescent moon stamp along with the number 800, that signifies the piece was manufactured in Germany.
So, what’s the big deal?
Basically, different makers have different values attached to them. Tiffany’s, for example, will fetch a higher value than a no-name silversmith, but a rare silversmith of excellent craftsmanship could be a collector’s item.
Your Partner in Silver
Now comes the moment of truth. You could look up “where can I sell silver near me?” Or, you can come to the silver experts.
We know silver, and we know how to offer a great value, whether it’s silver jewelry, silver bullion, or silverware. And no matter what you’re selling, it’s an easy process: meet a friendly staff member, set your items on the desk, watch our professional buyer evaluate your items, get your items weighed, and get paid. It’s that simple.
Sound like the right fit? Then take a look at our locations, find one near you, and come talk to us.