JUDGING VINTAGE  SERVE-WARE©

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Purchasing vintage silver serve-ware is an excellent option if you appreciate its’ beauty —and are willing to perform proper maintenance.

Because many people are simplifying their lives, and because today’s melting value of sterling and silver-plated hollow-ware is usually minimal, many people are selling their silver-wares through flea markets, thrift shops, estate sales and charity bazaars.

That makes NOW—  a good time to shop for these wares — but know that resale prices may be established by someone who knows little about the quality or worth of these wares.  Prices are easier to negotiate if you use astute product knowledge.

At estate sales, don’t presume everything in an upscale home is good.
I’ve seen estate sales-agents fill homes with left-overs from other estate sales.

How can you know if the product is from a well-kept home—or where was it kept in the home?  a hot attic? a damp cellar?Temperature and humidity affect the contraction and expansion of ceramics, wood and metal finishes.

Carry a powerful magnifying glass: It’s important to read— metal content—identifying hallmarks—and manufacturer’s names usually struck on the bottom of each piece.

And it’s even more important to understand metals and production techniques in order to judge the quality of metal serve-ware—whether the metal is utilitarian—or a metal you must polish.

If a product needs silver-plating, be prepared that this has become very expensive. Be selective and your vintage shopping becomes a treasure hunt.

How old is the serve-ware?
Sterling silver, brass, bronze, stainless steel, polished aluminum , tin and pewter serve-ware can last many generations.

But most silver-plate, depending upon usage, lasts only about twenty years—and re-plating cost has escalated.

How do you plan to use it?
If you plan to use metal serve-ware for serving food, be sure the surface is unblemished so it does not hold bacteria.

The interior of most metal vintage coffee and tea pots can be scrubbed with soap and hot water but be wary of old copper and brass because these metals can have a toxic reaction with some foods.

Old and darkened pewter probably has lead content which is toxic and leaches into food.  However, old metal hollow-ware used for flowers, plants, magazines and wine or beer coolers lends character to a room.       

Can you verify the metal or metal alloys used to make the serve-ware?
The underside of all silver serve-ware should be marked with the name of the metal or alloy as sterling or .925, or the words silver plate but many contemporary brass, bronze, copper, pewter,tin and aluminum products are not marked—at all!

This creates the necessity of determining if some of the brass, bronze or copper wares are plated. If any part of the finish is paler in color— the wares are probably plated–and the plating is wearing away. Pass.

Origin of where the serve-ware was made?
During the past century, most developed nations have successfully produced quality artisan and mass-produced decorative and functional hollow-ware made of the metals and alloys discussed. However, a label of the country of origin might still be readable.

Check all edges:
Be sure edges are not dented and the gauge of metal is sufficiently heavy whether the edge is plain, rolled or has an applied border. Edges maintain the integrity of the shape of hollow-ware.

If hollow metal shapes have applied ornamentation, they must be articulate. Cast metal borders run the gamut from cheap alloys with poor articulation to excellent alloys with crisp articulation.

Differentiate details by comparing similar products of the same metal: e.g. examine all pewter 18” trays at high, medium and low prices.

Don’t believe everything a seller tells you about serve-ware.
Experience has convinced me:
sellers of used wares ‘make-up stories’ about products.

Selecting products of quality is a conscious act.
Enjoying their integrity and beauty is a sublime pleasure.

 

Pat Breen: EYEWITNESS TO QUALITY