Heirlooms in jeopardy as silver hits 31-year record high

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Silver restoration specialist Jeff Herman inspects the progress on a silver coffee set at his well-known West Warwick, R.I, workshop. Herman said higher prices for silver has priced the common man out of the buying market, with collectors stepping in to preserve historic pieces.

Aunt Martha’s silver tea service, broken gold necklaces and rolls of Morgan dollars are coming out of dresser drawers and closets as gold and silver prices climb.

Silver hit a 31-year high of $48.58 an ounce on April 28, and gold set a record of $1,556 per ounce on April 29.

“We’re seeing some people come in with scrap gold, scrap sterling and stuff that’s broken or has been sitting around and they’re not using,” said Kirk Kelly of The Coin Depot. “And some are buying investment silver and gold.”

Gordon S. Converse, who operates an auction firm in Malvern, Pa., has had inquiries from people wanting to sell Morgan dollars and silver wares.

“Many people I know have silver things laying around that they haven’t used for 25 years,” he said. “They weigh 40 ounces of solid silver. That’s enough money for them to say, why don’t I sell it?”

This updated second edition has more than 1,400 photos and illustrations and 18,000 listings for silver pieces in 800 patterns from dozens of American makers, along with select European silversmiths.

But some people get upset when they learn a set of silver flatware is going to be melted down for its silver, he said. “It’s like melting a piece of history.”

A lot of that happened back in late 1979 when silver took off and hit $50 an ounce before dropping.
“I know one dealer who withdrew some silver for sale because he thought it was morally reprehensible to melt down Georgian tea pots for the silver,” Converse said.

Today’s rising silver prices prompted a friend to write Converse inquiring about the price he could get for some Morgan dollars.

“The silver dollars are very beautiful coins,” Converse said. “It’s a shame to melt them, but it’s awfully hard to resist if you have a pile of them, and some people do. If you have 100 coins, that’s over $3,000.”

The higher price of silver has priced the common man out of silver, said Jeff Herman of Jeffrey Herman Silver Restoration and Conservation. The big companies like Gorham and Lunt have gone out of business and a cottage industry is taking over, he said.

“Silver isn’t for the masses any more,” Herman said. “It’s more for collectors who have higher incomes,”
When it comes to sterling hollowware and flatware, there’s not the type of need today that there was during the “gilded age” when homes had butlers and maids to care for the silver, he said.

“But there is always going to be a certain clientele out there who is looking for the best in everything. Silver is not dead. It’s repositioning itself.”

Herman likened the silver industry to the car industry. A lot of Ford Fiestas are sold because the average person can afford them. But there is still a strong market for the more expensive Bentleys and Mercedes.
“Fine silver, there still is a market for that,” Herman said. “It is going to that type of person who can appreciate the craftsmanship.”

But that $48.58 an ounce price for solver has people taking a second look at what they have around the house, Converse said, like the man he recently met who had a nice little sterling silver bowl, about 10 inches in diameter.

“It was a plain little bowl, but probably weighed about 16 ounces,” Converse said. “Now he’s thinking of getting rid of it.”

Sometimes people get upset if they know, for instance, a flatware service is going to be melted down for its silver, he said.

“But many of the people just close their eyes to it,” Converse said.

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