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.
This post comes from Marilyn Lewis at partner site Money Talks News.
Grandma'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.
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:
- Local antiques shops and dealers. Phone to ask policies on buying and valuing antique silver.
- Professional appraisers. Search for accredited professionals through the Appraisers Association of America and the International Society of Appraisers. Ask about fees, which are charged as a flat rate or by the hour, says Consumer Reports. Ethical appraisers don't buy items they've appraised, which allows you to get an objective opinion.
- Kovels Antiques & Collectibles Price Guide. A free list of values, with registration. Kovels also explains more about identification and catalogs antique silver marks.
- Online valuations. You can get a valuation -- not an appraisal or authentication -- online. Consumer Reports says:
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.
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
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.
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!!
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.
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