Consumer column: Ten tips for selling Grandma’s silverware

12/27/2013 9:24 PM

12/27/2013 9:25 PM

Now that the holidays are over, some are no doubt wondering whether to polish the silver or simply get rid of it.

Younger generations are increasingly choosing the latter, according to local antique dealers and silver and gold exchanges.

“We buy a sterling silverware set pretty much every week,” said Stephen Stierstorfer, owner of American Coin and Jewelry Exchange on Hulen Street in Fort Worth. “Younger people don’t care about it. They want to turn it into a big-screen TV or a vacation.”

I recently inherited my mother’s sterling silverware and also did not feel the need to hang onto it. So I set about going to local shops and browsing online to learn how to sell it. Here are 10 things I learned during the process:

1. Sentimental value. First of all, do you really want to sell it? Silverware is one of the few things that can be handed down fairly easily from generation to generation. Crystal and china gets chipped and broken, but silverware is fairly durable.

Even though formal dining may be more a thing of the past, be sure to take a long hard look at your family and whether you would use it. Also, consider whether you want to pass down Grandma’s silver to your son or daughter.

2. Make sure it’s sterling. If you’ve decided to unload it, check the back of every piece for the word “sterling” or the abbreviation “ster.”

Stierstorfer said about half of the silverware that comes into his shop is silver-plated, which is virtually worthless on the silver market. If the silverware is from another country, it might have “925” on it. This is a reference to sterling silver, which is 92.5 percent silver (the rest is alloys). Occasionally, Stierstorfer said, he sees the word “coin” printed on the back. This means the silverware is made from melted coins and is 90 percent silver.

3. Weigh it first. If you weigh the silver on your kitchen or bathroom scale, or use post office scales, be aware that this weight must be converted into troy ounces, which is how silver is weighed. Online calculators can easily convert your figure to troy ounces. Six pounds of silverware, for example, equals roughly 65 troy ounces.

Be aware that most knives in a table setting are only silver around the handles, which may be filled for additional weight. (The tops of knives are stainless steel.) Eight-setting sets can vary widely in weight and therefore value.

4. Check prices online. As mentioned before, sterling is 92.5 percent silver, so it’s good to have an idea of how much silver you have and compare it against the current price at a website like www.kitco.com. Another website, www.coinapps.com, will let you put your sterling silverware’s weight (in troy ounces) in a calculator and give you its current value.

Look up historic value as well, if you have time to wait. For example, earlier this year, silver was selling at around $30 an ounce. Now it’s closer to $19.

5. Replacement pieces. Stierstorfer warned that replacement pieces for a set may run $50 or $60 each online, but that is because the seller is offering a service to a buyer who needs something. The market value when you sell sterling silverware is only for melting it down. “Ninety-nine times out of a 100, that’s where it’s going to go,” he said.

6. Check out online offers. Be wary of extra fees, shipping costs and even fraud when selling online. Most local silver and gold exchanges do not recommend selling silver online, but you may be able to find some postings of what buyers are paying for silverware by searching. Be sure the price you’re being quoted isn’t reduced by extra charges and that you are comfortable with the reputation of the online buyer.

7. Compare gold and silver exchanges. This part was particularly interesting. I checked out four exchanges in a single day in Fort Worth and Arlington and received offers ranging from $400 to $1,050. Each exchange weighs the silverware. Some will give you their formula for how much they pay per troy ounce and how close it is to the daily market price. Others won’t.

8. Stay safe. I purposely drove past one exchange on my list because I wasn’t comfortable stopping in the area; the storefront looked a little seedy. Remember, you may be carrying $1,000 worth of silver around that somebody on the street might like to have.

9. Check antique value. I went to an antique dealer to see if my mother’s set would be valuable to sell as a whole rather than selling to an exchange to melt down. It didn’t. The dealer told me I would be lucky to get a quarter of the mid-prices quoted me and then it would just come in small chunks over time as someone purchased a replacement piece. My silverware pattern was not very ornate, which also lowered its value. Having an initial on each piece would diminish the value further.

10. Make a good decision. Don’t be rushed. If you don’t understand the transaction or aren’t sure if you have the best deal, walk away. Once you get the cash in hand from a local dealer, the sale is final.

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