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The smart way to sell the family silver for cash

There are plenty of people who are willing to buy your silver and other valuables, but most won't give you top dollar for what you have.

By MSN Money Partner Apr 18, 2014 1:18PM

This post comes from Marilyn Lewis at partner site Money Talks News.

Money Talks News on MSN MoneyGrandma's silver was such a great gift. Until you realized you need to polish it. Gorgeous old silver flatware, trays, bowls, pitchers and tea sets may be more of a responsibility than many people today are able to take on. If you decide to sell it, you'll want to get top dollar.

Antique silverware and old silver jewelry © Ekspansio/Getty Images
A wide array of businesses buy household silver, and many offer considerably less than your silver is worth.

"It seems these days on every corner next to the nail parlor, you see a place with a sign: 'We buy gold, we buy precious metals,'" says Steve Yvaska, The Antiques Advisor. An expert in American silver, he appraises antiques and writes a column on antiques and collectibles for the San Jose Mercury News.

Don't just walk into an unknown business with your bag of silver and expect to get the best price. By the same token, you can't expect to get more for your silver than is realistic. Educate yourself to learn the value of what you have and maximize your profit, Yvaska urges.

Learn what you've got

Household silver is sold in one of two ways: by the troy ounce if it is to be melted down, or you might be able to get a higher price if it has antique value.

Begin your education by searching online for a site that gives the price of silver and then follow it daily to get a sense of the fluctuating market value. Expect businesses that buy silver to offer you less than market rates, since they need to make a profit reselling it.

Next, identify what you have. If your silver has no antique value, sell it by weight. Be aware that not all "silver" is sterling silver. Silver-plated objects are made of less valuable ("base") metals with a thin coat of silver. They're considerably less valuable than silver.

Sterling silver has identifying marks stamped into it. You may need a magnifying glass to see these tiny marks. Look for the word "sterling" or the numbers "925," which means that 925 of a possible 1,000 parts are sterling silver, Yvaska says.

But make sure you're not parting with something valuable. Skinner Auctioneers, in the Boston area, explains:

If you take a collection to a smelter or scrapper knowing nothing about when it was manufactured, or by whom, you may inadvertently let go of a rare, high quality silver piece for significantly less than its true worth. Even worse than the monetary loss, a rare art object could be destroyed.

Identify and appraise

Here are several ways to identify silver pieces and establish their approximate value:

What's It Worth to You charges a minimum of $10 to value a single item. Its appraisers can also provide opinions on how much something on eBay is worth. Value My Stuff also charges $10 per appraisal. WorthPoint valuations start at $30 an item; you can also pay $10 or more for a monthly membership that provides access to a database of sales records and instant valuations or price lookups. A free introductory week is available.
  • Auction houses. Many large national auction companies -- Heritage Auctions, for example -- offer free valuations. This helps them stay on the lookout for valuable items they'd want to auction. It's a win-win for both of you. Auction houses don't buy items; they auction them on behalf of sellers and collect a commission. When checking with auction houses, ask what their commission rate is. Some charge as much as 50 percent, Yvaska says.
  • "Antiques Roadshow." Catch the PBS program on its national tour.
  • Antique fairs. See "America's best antique shows" from Country Living magazine for ideas. Bring one small piece of your silver along to show to silver dealers.
  • Museum appraisal events. Local museums often hold appraisal days as fundraising events. You pay a fee per price -- $20, for example -- for a professional evaluation.
  • Do it yourself. Search your library or bookstores for reference books. Check online booksellers for out-of-print books.

Yvaska's recommendations for books:

  • "Encyclopedia of American Silver Manufacturers" by Dorothy T. Rainwater.
  • "American Silver Flatware 1837-1910" by Noel D. Turner.
Dealing with buyers

After establishing the approximate value of your pieces, do some research into buyers and then comparison shop for prices. Here's how:

  • Ask around. If you are about to have your house painted or buy a car, you’d ask people you know for their advice, experience and recommendations. Do the same here. Talk with friends and ask around at work, "Has anybody ever sold any silver or gold?"
  • Check the Yellow Pages. And the Internet. If you live outside a major metropolitan area, also check with silver buyers in the nearest big city.
  • Get on the phone. Call the businesses that advertise themselves as buyers to ask how much they pay per ounce. Expect prices to differ widely.

There are a variety of places and ways to sell silver. Here's Yvaska’s guidance:

  • Prices are generally lower at pawnshops, corner dealers and traveling silver buyers.
  • Jewelers and coin shops buy silver, but don't expect full value for antiques.
  • Companies selling replacements for fine tableware buy your silver. They are unlikely to pay top dollar.
  • Antique dealers buy antiques; prices vary.
  • Auction houses may obtain a good price for your silver. They don't buy it, though. They auction it, take a commission and give you the rest.
  • Private buyers and collectors give good prices. Find their ads in newspapers or online.
  • Make the best profit by selling your silver yourself, after enough research. Place an ad online or sell through an auction site like eBay.

More from Money Talks News

Apr 18, 2014 3:03PM

I own a small antique shop and there are several points this article does not address

1. More often the not, Silver-plated objects are worthless for scrap (melt value) - silver layer is micro layer thick

2. Because of 'reality based' tv shows people think what they own is worth more then what it really is worth. I have had many people come in, 'I saw this on XXXX show and would like to sell it for $$$$'. Just because you saw it on a tv show for $$ does not mean it is worth it.

3. As a business owner I need to make a profit, I know what a horrible idea - business making a profit, this means I am not going to pay top dollar for something, after federal, state and local taxes, rent, payroll taxes... I might offer you 50% of what it is worth, after expenses I might make 10-20%.

4. My pet peeve is 'I saw this for sale on ebay for $100', instead of seeing what it is selling for, look to see what it has sold for.  That $100 item might have sold for $10, I point this out by saying I have a listed a sheet of paper on ebay for $10 but that does not mean the ream of paper it came from is worth $5000.

Apr 18, 2014 5:40PM
I had 4 lbs of old silver dimes and wanted to sell them. They really had no value as collector coins, because they were all well worn, but just bulk silver. I went on line and determined the value. I then took my dimes to a gold and silver exchange that was visiting a local hotel to try and sell them. Yipes, they offered me about 1/3 of what it was worth. The guy said "we give the price of silver not collector coins" . I told him I know that and my price is the price of bulk silver dimes not the collector price. I walked out and took my dimes to a coin dealer who gave me the correct price. It pays to know what your stuff is worth and make sure you get the "honest" price for what you have. Do your homework, it pays.   
Apr 18, 2014 2:32PM
Thank the '0bama recovery' for the sad fact that you have to sell the 'family silver' to pay the mortgage. What's next,..eating the family dog? Not a big deal for 0bama,..he admitted to eating puppies when he lived in Indonesia.
Bon appetit,..America.
Apr 18, 2014 2:38PM
If you want to sell that's great , but unless you are in desperate need of cash , watch silver prices . Currently they are down to around $20 an ounce or a bit less . Prices have been quite a bit higher in the last couple of years , so I believe it should rebound from where it is now . Unless you need the money now , it could pay to hold until it gets back up to the $25-30 range which is realistic. Even with a raise to $25 an ounce , a silverware set with side pieces could weigh as much as 100 ounces or more , which could be a $500 difference in price than today . 
Apr 18, 2014 2:11PM
You should be able to get within 10% of spot price, if not, don't sell it!
Apr 18, 2014 7:52PM
I wouldn't sell it. If you have a real set of silver, pass it on to the next generation - they may never be able to afford it ever again. If you don't need to sell it. If you aren't dying and in desperate need of money to survive - DO NOT SELL IT!!!
Apr 18, 2014 5:22PM

I have Germen Silver Christmas ornaments that have been in my family for over 300 years they are priceless. Not for sell and never will be!!

Apr 18, 2014 5:21PM
Leave all your Silver and Gold on the front porch.. we will be by to pick it up tonight
Apr 18, 2014 8:38PM
>>>> Antique dealers buy antiques; prices vary.

You don't say.

>>> Private buyers and collectors give good prices. Find their ads in newspapers or online.

Caveat needed.  Collectors might say they pay 'top dollar' but few want to.  The collector mantra is to express interest in it, and then hope you will sell it to them for considerably less than what they are willing to pay.  It's called collector nature.  If you ask them to make an offer, more often than not, you'll get lowballed.

>>> Make the best profit by selling your silver yourself, after enough research. Place an ad online or sell through an auction site like eBay.

Generally if you don't know what you have, eBay is the best way to go, even though the commission to sell there is about 13% (10% to eBay, 3% to Paypal).  If you can describe the piece via markings, and you don't know what it should sell for, you'll do best here. 

Don't forget to use eBay to find ended auctions on the piece you have to get some sales data.  You could then try an ad on Craigslist.

Apr 18, 2014 11:26PM
 Are obozo voters selling goods or just living off your labor?
Apr 18, 2014 10:59PM
Ask Robin Leach....He'll give you top dollar at  a local scam,... I mean gold max store. LOL.
Apr 21, 2014 11:40AM
Sadly, this is the new normal for people who are desperate for cash. Our parents never had to think of doing anything like this. We are going back to the days before WWII when no one had very much.
Apr 21, 2014 12:59PM
I was born in 1945 in the dry lands of Kansas. I can assure you that we saw many very hard times, even later in life but instead of doing something despicable like this we just went without or found another job and worked 16/18 hrs. per day if we had to, 69 yrs. old and still can hold my head up and look myself in the eye every morning with pride. The generations in this day and age have no pride.
Sep 8, 2014 10:41PM
A sterling silver melt-value guide is available at The chart lists the weight and value of pieces by maker and pattern. It has over 5,000 entries. This may be a useful tool for those who are interested in the value of their sterling silver flatware or tea set.
Apr 21, 2014 11:57AM
Anyone who would sell the family silver should never have been allowed to get their worthless hands on it to start with. There just is not any moral fiber left in this country of I-ME- and screw everyone else. Pretty damned sad and pathetic.
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