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Weighing in on gold and silver

Silver and gold can be weighed two different ways. If you’re not careful, you can be selling at the lower weight but buying at the higher weight. It’s important to know the differences so you don’t end up on the losing end when involved in a precious metal transaction.

Gold and silver are the only two of the “seven metals of antiquity” (the others being tin, lead, mercury, copper and iron) that are known to occur as native metal, ones that occur in pure form. For at least 40,000 years, gold and silver have been in the forefront of finance, ornamentation, technology and even space exploration.

Yet, weighing gold and silver isn’t quite the exact science it should be. There are different ways to measure just how much of these precious metals we buy and sell, yet there are easy ways to convert each onto a level playing field for all.

Gold as gram: A 35 gram gold nugget offered at auction sold for $1,800 in 2018. With a troy ounce spot price of $1,332.73 in 2018, the value of the nugget is $1,499.86 if it were 24K. Most nuggets of over 1 ounce are unusual and may still have inclusions of other metals. Image courtesy BK Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.com

Troy ounce vs. standard ounce in grams

There are two types of ounces to be aware of: troy ounce (t oz) and avoirdupois ounce (avdp or standard). So if you are buying by the troy ounce, but selling at the standard ounce, the difference is already 3.5% in the dealer’s favor.

The reason is that a troy ounce is 31.10 grams while the standard avdp ounce is 28.35 grams. Be sure that the scale that weighs your gold and silver shows it as 31.10, not 28.35.

Pennyweights (dwt)

Occasionally, an auction will show gold offered in pennyweight. There are 20 pennyweight to a troy ounce. Simply take the pennyweight, shown as dwt, and divide by 20 to get the troy ounce in total weight then multiply by the karat to get the troy ounce in gold, then multiply by the spot price of gold that day for its value.

Gold as pennyweight: A simple 18K gold ring from Tiffany weighed in at 9.30 dwt, which equals .348 troy ounce with a value of $581.46 with a price of gold at $1,667.27 at the time. Image courtesy Carlsen Gallery Inc. and LiveAuctioneers

Measuring gold in karats

Gold is measured by troy ounce but also by karat, which designates the amount of gold that is usually offset by a harder alloy to strengthen it. The amount of gold versus the amount of another metal determines the karat: 8K is 33.3% pure (.333), 10K is 41.6% pure (.416), 14K is 58.3% pure (.583),16K is 66.6% pure (.666), 18K is 75% pure (.750),  22K is 91.6% pure (.916), 24K is 100% pure (1.00).

Measuring silver content

Silver is measured by the amount used in any piece of jewelry or decorative item. Sterling silver, for example, is 92.5% silver and usually 7.5% copper. It is hallmarked (stamped) with the word “sterling,” “ster” or the number .925 either on the bottom or on the underside of the item. The item actually feels rather heavy as well.

Silverplate, on the other hand, is mostly base metal with a thin layer of pure silver that has been electroplated to give it the shine and brilliance of silver. If it isn’t stamped, it is silver-plated. It actually feels rather light compared to the sterling.

Silver as sterling: A set of Gorham sterling silver tureens with a total weight of 74 troy ounces of silver at $32.26 a troy ounce in 2012 with a value of $2,413.88 that sold for $3,000. Image courtesy Millea Bros. Ltd. and LiveAuctioneers

Coin silver is usually defined as having 90% silver and 10% copper, but depending on the melted coins used there could be a difference between having 75% to 90% silver.

One way to know how much silver an item has is to cut a small piece from an inconspicuous area of an item, but this is destructive. An X-ray fluorescence (XRF) device, while non-destructive, measures only the base silver nearer the surface and misses entirely the type of base metal alloy underneath, thereby misreading the content of silver overall.

Testing a silver item that is marked as pure silver can be done by setting an ice cube on it. If it melts quickly it is pure silver. Use a magnet to see if it sticks. If it does, it is mostly base metal. A commercial silver testing kit uses nitric acid to see if it tarnishes at a predictable rate.

Silver as plate: A complete five-piece Art Nouveau silver-plated tea set of sold for $2,400, not for its unmarked silver content, but from its artistic design. Most silver-plated tea services will auction for $50 to $150. Image courtesy Clarke Auction Gallery and LiveAuctoneers.com

Things to know

When gold and silver are being weighed, it should be done in front of you. The scale should be at least two decimal places (31.10) to show it is being weighed as troy ounces, not in grams or pennyweight. Sending gold and silver to an offsite location by delivery service won’t allow the collector to know if it was weighed as troy ounce or a standard ounce.

Offsite locations (where you send your gold elsewhere to be weighed) will typically offer 70% or so of the spot price that day. You should be expecting 90% of the spot price or more.

If a dealer wants to sell you numismatic or “collectible” coins instead of buying your gold or silver outright by suggesting that the coins are “outperforming bullion by more than 2 to 1 … charging only … a 1 percent fee,” according to an AARP investigation, he is involved with a boiler room operation. The markup for each coin is wildly astronomical and a collector will always have trouble selling them later. This bait-and-switch tactic is not what a reputable dealer will ever suggest.

Reputable dealers will ask for your personal identification when selling gold and silver. This is to comply with federal regulations to combat money laundering and to verify against stolen goods.

Buying and selling of gold and silver at hotel shows, those offering free appraisals, answering 800 ads, getting a cold call from a so-called dealer, among other types of misrepresentations should always be avoided. Buyer beware is still the watchword. “Consumers need to do their due diligence,” says Kathy McFadden, executive director of the Industry Council for Tangible Assets, “Just as they would if buying a car or asking a contractor to come into their home. There is no difference.”

In the world of gold and silver, buy the book before you buy the coin. In other words, learn what you can first. That is the safest way to hedge against your own inflation.

Decorative arts auction June 19 has emphasis on silver

Beautiful decorative art – with an emphasis on sterling silver – worthy of a well-appointed home are offered in a Jasper52 online auction that will be conducted Wednesday, June 19. Going up for bid early in the 129-lot auction is an eight-piece Art Deco sterling silver tea set by Christofle/Cardeilhac of France.

Christofle/Cardeilhac eight-piece Art Deco sterling silver tea set. Estimate: $14,000-$17,000. Jasper52 image

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Jasper52 serves up sterling silver, exquisite jewelry April 28

Fine jewelry and decorative arts inspired by Miami Beach living will be the exclusive fare of an online auction conducted by Jasper52 on Sunday, April 28. From Van Cleef & Arpels Alhambra and Cartier Panthere jewelry to the finest French silver, this special sale features only the best in jewelry, watches, decorative art and silver.

Cartier Panthere 18K yellow gold bracelet watch. Estimate: $54,000-$65,000. Jasper52 image

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

English silver retains look, feel of royalty

NEW YORK – Collecting silver not only offers the tactile pleasure of holding a fine three-dimensional object expertly crafted but it also appeals to the eye. Akin to a piece of “statement jewelry,” fine works of art in silver make an elegant tableau. From elegant cutlery with scalloped or repousse handles to architectural candlesticks and a striking centerpiece with a profusion of cast elements, no table is complete without good silver.

English silver, particularly Georgian (1714-1830) and Regency (1811-1820) period examples, are highly desirable.

This double-handled covered cup is one of the earliest works by Paul de Lamerie, a Dutch-born silversmith who became one of London’s best craftsmen. Photo courtesy of M.S. Rau Antiques, New Orleans.

“In regard to silver, during the Early Georgian period (1714-1760), Queen Anne style reigned supreme, marked by simple, elegant forms and minimal decoration,” said Deborah Choate, sales consultant at M.S. Rau Antiques in a blog. “However, around 1725, elements of the exuberant Baroque and Rococo styles began to appear. By the Late Georgian period (1760-1811), a Neoclassical esthetic prevailed, which harkens back to the classical forms of antiquity, particularly the art and architecture of Ancient Greece and Rome.”

This George III English silver epergne, London, 1768, marks for Emick Romer, brought $24,000 in November 2018 at Brunk Auctions. Photo courtesy of Brunk Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Among the best-known British silversmiths in this era were Hester Bateman (1704-1794) and Paul Storr (1771-1844). Bateman became one of the best-known woman silversmiths after her husband died. At age 51, she took over his silver business and defied convention at the time, creating elegantly simple works even though the Rococo style was in vogue.

Storr also favored a minimalist aesthetic in keeping with the Neoclassical style, creating plain and unembellished forms that often featured naturalistic designs. While much of his tableware was simple, he did create lavish pieces for royalty and made most of the silver bought by King George III and King George IV.

This important English silver centerpiece sold for $17,000 in November 2017 at The Popular Auction. Photo courtesy of The Popular Auction and LiveAuctioneers.

In sharp contrast to its predecessor, Regency era silver is the most sumptuous and striking of English silver styles. Ornately embellished with scrolling acanthus and shell accents or having cast details like a lion’s head on the spout of an urn, Regency silver overall was a diverse grouping encompassing bold decoration and expert craftsmanship the extent of which has seldom been seen since.

A pair of English sterling silver servers with ivory handles made $25,000 in May 2015 at Clars Auction Gallery. Photo courtesy of Clars Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers.

Becoming a scholar of English silver means one is introduced the world of hallmarks, of which there are many. Hallmarks do more than merely identify the silversmith, a series of marks also convey how pure the silver is, its origin and age or that duties were properly paid as well as the assay office certifying the piece. Books as well as online reference guides can provide exhaustive information to identifying pieces.

“Collecting silver need not break the bank and a Charles Horner silver thimble might cost you around £10 at auction, a hat pin by the same maker around £30-£40 and an enamel and silver pendant by him around £200,” according to an article posted by Richard Winterton Auctioneers on its website. “At the other end of the spectrum Georgian and Regency silver by some of the most famous British silversmiths can sell for over £100,000 but there is much more to be had in the £100-£1,000 price bracket.”

A Moses Montefiore silver Sabbath goblet having a tulip form bowl, London, 1881, made $22,000 in February 2015 at Pasarel. Photo courtesy of Pasarel and LiveAuctioneers.

Even in America, museums are devoted collectors with sublime examples finding their way into permanent collections in renowned institutions, such as the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, which in a 2010 press release announced the gift of 50 choice pieces of English silver from collector Rita R. Gans of New York, transforming the museum’s collection. At the time, VMFA Director Alex Nyerges said it was “the most important and fabulous gift of English silver in memory in many years to any museum in the world.”

A Manchester Cup silver trophy, Elkington & Co., Birmingham, 1903, realized $18,000 in June 2018 at Dan Morphy Auctions. Photo courtesy of Dan Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Some collectors collect only one form, such as candlesticks or epergnes while others seek out the best forms from one maker, and for others, it’s silver wares associated with one period or king.

For new collectors, a great way to start collecting silver is to start small either by focusing on smalls like silver thimbles or snuff boxes or if you favor larger pieces, adding one covered dish or teapot at a time. Learning is a lifelong process and while you educate yourself on the myriad of hallmarks pieces are engraved with, you will also absorb some of the social history of each piece. The more pieces you see and handle, the better you will train your eye and you will start to know the feel and weight of a piece, judge its patina, flaws and quality.

Sterling silver gleams in Jasper52 decorative arts auction Feb. 5

More than 200 fine furnishings to adorn a comfortable home are offered in an online auction to be conducted by Jasper52 on Tuesday, Feb. 5. The emphasis is on silver including items by Georg Jensen and Tiffany and Co.

Georg Jensen, sterling silver compote, Denmark. Estimate: $1,500-$2,000. Jasper52 image

View the auction.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Lustrous sterling silver in the spotlight at online auction Oct. 10

Time-honored silver items are the focus of a Jasper52 online auction Oct. 10. Lots range from 18th-century trays and teapots to 20th-century Georg Jensen and Tiffany flatware.

Gorham sterling silver soup tureen, Providence, R.I., 1892, Neoclassical style, 15in across the handles, 63.2 troy ounces. Estimate: $2,000-$2,500. Jasper52 image

View the auction.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Continental class shines through in Jasper52 auction May 15

High-quality decorative arts and sterling silver are offered in a Jasper52 online auction on Tuesday, May 15. Featured are many Continental antiques, from a Viennese silver gilt and enamel clock to a pair of antique German silver and glass claret jugs.

Pair of solid silver and cut glass claret jugs, made in Germany, circa 1895, 10.2 in. high. Estimate: $2,700-$3,000. Jasper52 image

View the auction.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Jasper52 auction serves up silver in many beautiful forms Oct. 22

As the most versatile of precious metals, silver stands as both the backdrop and center stage of a tastefully decorated home. Many beautiful forms of American, British and Continental sterling silver will be offered in a Jasper52 online auction on Sunday, Oct. 22. Among the many highlights of the 77-lot auction is a set of six English sterling silver Georgian-style tankards made by Barker Ellis, Birmingham.

Set of six English sterling silver pint beer tankards, Barker Ellis, Birmingham, 1977, 2,100 grams / 69 troy ounces. Estimate: $3,300-$3,700. Jasper52 image

View the auction.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

The Vintage Silver Lining

Beautifully crafted sterling silver treasures from two continents are the highlights of this curated vintage silver auction. Take a look below as we tour a few of the standouts from this selected collection.

Capping off more than 50 lots is a George III sterling silver teapot and tea caddy set by John Denziloe of London, 1780. Both the teapot and tea caddy are in a classic oval shape and each is embellished with an ornate border on both the top and bottom rims of the body and around the rim of the lid. Each also has a floral swag and bow motif with an oval cartouche on the sides. The teapot has a wood handle and finial.

George III sterling silver teapot and tea caddy, John Denziloe, London, 1780. Estimate: $4,800-$5,500. Jasper52 image

 

London silversmiths Joseph and John Angell made two ornate sterling silver wine bottle coasters, which are dated 1838. These coasters have tall ornate sides embellished with a pierced design and feature an ornate shell and scroll design around the rim. The bases are wood and each coaster has a large round chased button at the center.

Pair of Victorian sterling silver wine/champagne bottle coasters, Joseph & John Angell, London, 1838. Estimate: $3,100-$3,500. Jasper52 image

 

A sterling silver and enamel vanity set by Henry Matthew of Birmingham, England dates to 1924. Each piece in this set is created in solid silver and embellished with a rich blue guilloche enamel design. The set consists of a hand mirror, a pair of hairbrushes, a pair of clothes brushes, two scent bottles, a jar/pot and a small clock. The bottles and the jar both have lovely cut glass patterns.

Sterling silver and enamel woman’s vanity set made by Henry Matthews, Birmingham, England, 1924, excellent condition. Estimate: $2,200-$2,500. Jasper52 image

 

German silver in the sale includes a large pair of well-modeled pheasants. Probably composed of 800 silver, the game birds have hinged wings and date to the 1890s.

Pair of German solid silver pheasants, probably 800 silver, circa. 1890, approx. 22 3/4 in. long x 11 1/4 in. high. Estimate: $3,800-$4,200. Jasper52 image

 

 

A small but colorful silver and enamel clock in the auction was made in Vienna circa 1875. It features a champlevé enamel dial with Roman numerals. The back of the face depicts the mythological Rape of the Sabine Woman in vibrantly colored Viennese enamel. The foot of the clock is also covered with Viennese enameled classical images. A silver gilt and enamel camel stands on a pedestal on the domed foot, and supports the clock on its back. The clock face also has a majestic eagle finial.

Enamel and silver clock, circa 1875 Vienna, Austria, 6 1/2 in. high. Estimate: $4,100-$4,600. Jasper52 image

 

A dozen lots of designer jewelry are included in the auction. Featured is a lovely sterling silver and amethyst bracelet by noted Mexican silver jewelry designer Margot de Taxco.

Margot de Taxco amethyst and sterling silver bracelet, 16 eagle mark, used after 1948, 11/16 in. wide x 7 1/4 in. long. Estimate: $1,100-$1,200. Jasper52 image

A Luxury Tour of Antique Silver

From Spratling to Georg Jensen, this collection of antique and vintage silver features renowned names in silver-making and highlights skill and artistry. With these pieces from the 18th through to the 20th century, you can discover an alluring assortment of silver that is sure to strike your fancy. Take a look at a few shining pieces from this collection.

Expected to lead the charge is the solid silver wine/champagne cooler and ice bowl set made by Tetard Freres. Both the cooler and the bowl have a narrow paneled design and feature a chased band around the top rim and foot with an applied acanthus leaf design. This set, made in 1927, is of partly good quality and substantial weight. Having a long history of exceptional silversmithing that merited gold medals at world expositions, the Tetard brothers of Paris, under the design leadership of Valery Bizouard, were a leading manufacturer of French Art Deco silver.

Tetard Freres sterling silver wine cooler and ice bowl set, 1927, 92.2 troy ounces. Estimate: $6,500-$7,500. Jasper52 image

 

With a traditional lasting over 100 years, Georg Jensen exemplifies quality craftsmanship. Since the company’s founding in Copenhagen in 1904, it has embraced the Art Nouveau style and produced pieces that continue to resonate with design-conscious customers. Exhibited in museums and galleries worldwide, Georg Jensen markings promise beauty and functionality. The Acorn salad spoon and fork by George Jensen offered in this collection have a $600-$700 estimate.

Georg Jensen sterling silver large salad spoon and fork, Acorn pattern, Denmark, Post 1945, 8 7/8in long, 217 grams. Estimate: $600-$700. Jasper52 image

 

The 28-piece sterling silver flatware set in the Masterpiece pattern by International is a fine set to build upon. It consists of four-piece place settings for six in addition to a gravy ladle, serving spoon, cold meat fork and sugar spoon. The set comes with a new storage chest. The Masterpiece pattern was designed by Alfred G. Kintz and introduced in 1983. The international Silver Co. was formed in 1898 by various independent New England silversmiths. The company grew to become the world’s largest manufacturer of silverware.

Masterpiece by International sterling silver flatware set, 28 pieces, setting for six. Estimate: $1,500-$1,700. Jasper52 image

 

In the category of objects of vertu are two sterling silver seated musicians with bobble heads made by Ludwig Neresheimer in Hanau, Germany in the late 19th century. The drummer was imported to the UK by Edwin Thompson Bryant in 1904, and as such carries the corresponding English silver hallmarks. The trumpet player was imported to the UK by Berthold Mueller at the turn of the 20th century. Berthold Mueller was an import firm that distributed a great deal of Neresheimer silver. The pair has a $4,500-$5,000 estimate.

Two novelty sterling silver musicians with bobble heads, made by Ludwig Neresheimer in Hanau, Germany, late 19th century. Estimate: $4,500-$5,000. Jasper52 image

 

To best display such fine curios is a sterling silver mirrored plateau. While the ring is stamped sterling silver, the maker’s mark is unclear. This circa 1920s piece carries a $250-$280 estimate.

Sterling silver mirror plateau, 10 1/2in in diameter, circa 1920s. Estimate: $250-$280. Jasper52 image

 

British born entrepreneur Fred Harvey (1835-1901) signed a contract in 1878 with the Santa Fe Railway to operate small restaurants at railroad depots along the railroad’s route. As a result he created the market and a place to sell jewelry, some of which was crafted by Native Americans, to travelers. Native American jewelry aficionados use his name to describe a particular type of Native American-style tourist jewelry that continued to be popular even after his death in 1901. The large Fred Harvey-era sterling silver belt buckle in this collection is highlighted by an oval piece of Bruneau jasper from Idaho and features a concentric orb pattern. At each corner of the silver buckle is a thunderbird.

Fred Harvey-era sterling silver thunderbird Bruneau jasper belt buckle, 2 3/8in x 3 1/2in. Estimate: $1,100-$1,250. Jasper52 image

 

The auction for this collection ends on Sunday, June 25th at 5pm ET. Take a look at the full catalog and favorite the items you love.