Selling the family silver might not make you rich

Selling the family silver might not make you rich

NEW YORK - Like a lot of American couples in the late 1950s, my parents got a set of sterling silver flatware for their wedding. And also like many, they have not used it for many years.

So this spring, with my parents looking to move and my sister, brother and I uninterested in silverware that requires regular polishing, I started looking to sell it.

Even though my parents' full-service set for 12 was from a reputable manufacturer, Towle, and in impeccable condition in a blue-velvet-lined wooden box, selling it turned out to be neither as easy nor as lucrative as we had hoped.

"Do not expect your 19th- or 20th-century flatware is going to be worth a lot of money," says Matthew Erskine, a lawyer and principal at the Erskine Co, a Wooster, Massachusetts-based strategic adviser to entrepreneurs and collectors.

If you have high-end Tiffany, that is better than mass-market sterling flatware by the likes of Towle or Reed & Barton. "They cranked that stuff out like popcorn," Erskine says.

Still, even if what you have is not worthy of "Antiques Roadshow," you will want to get a sense of what you have. Real sterling silver should be identified with the number .925 marked in miniature print. Other details may be noted as well.

Picking a buyer means venturing into unregulated turf, where it is easy to be ripped off unless you know your stuff.

Be careful of buyers that advertise heavily or want to do a quick deal. And be aware that regardless of where you sell on the open market, you will owe taxes on the gain, at the special 28 per cent rate for collectibles.

Start with the most high-end buyer on your list, and work your way down, advises Stuart Slavid, a vice president at auction house Skinner Inc, one of whose specialties is silver. That way you will have a better chance of getting the best price.

Slavid figures that some 75 per cent of those who bring in silver have something worth more than melt value. Certain patterns by Tiffany and Gorham are particularly prized by collectors, he notes.

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