COVID UPDATE: 18th January 2021
The website is open and accepting orders. The shop is closed to the public.
The next shipping day is Monday 18th January.
Handmade by master craftsmen, the quality of Antique Silver Flatware far outstrips anything being made today. The process of hand forging makes it stronger and better weighted than modern stamped out flatware whilst the sophistication of design is superb. However, when buying antique silver cutlery, there are few extra things to consider. This guide explains everything you need to know.
In order to make sure you get the best possible set for you, we recommend reading the guide below. It contains three sections. The first explains the different types of flatware available. The second explains why most sets come with new knives and the last contains some important pointers to make sure you get a good quality set. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us by phone or email and one of the Franks family will be happy to help and advise you.
The hallmarks on a set of flatware and how these hallmarks vary from piece to piece has a significant effect on the pricing of that set. There are three different categories, explained below.
As you browse our website, you’ll notice that the vast majority of sets don’t include knives. Instead, new matching knives are offered as an optional extra. The reason for this is that old knives were mild steel and they rusted. Mild steel is also quite soft and it wore down. As such, most old knives were considered disposable and would have been used until they wore out and then simply replaced. In fact, if you look at an antique Canteen of Cutlery, you will usually see that there is no space for the knives, which would have been bought separately and stored in their own box.
Because the old knives were disposable, the vast majority were made with bone handles. However, a small number of very wealthy people did have silver handled knives despite the fact that the blades wore out. Sometimes, it is possible to find a set where the the old silver knife handles have been re-bladed with stainless steel blades. These sets are rare but we usually have a few examples in stock. Whenever a set is sold with the old knives, this is clearly shown on our website.
The introduction of stainless steel knife blades didn’t happen until the 1920s and 30s. From that period on, it is easier to find sets with the original knives. However, the majority of these sets were sold with resin handled knives. Silver handled knives continued to be rare until the 1960s.
From the 1960s to the present day, the way silver handled knives are made has developed considerably and today’s silver knives are dishwasher proof and extremely hard wearing. The days of pitch (black goo) emerging from between the handle and blade are long gone.
Taking into account the improved durability of new knives and the rarity of re-bladed old knives, most people opt for new sterling silver and stainless steel knives designed to match their old set.
When buying old flatware, its important to make sure that the condition is good. At I.Franks we don’t sell any flatware that we don’t consider to be in excellent condition. When we appraise cutlery we look at two main things...
First of all we check the lengths of the prongs on the forks and the ends of the bowls on the spoons. These are the two areas which get the most wear. After a hundred years, over used sets end up with uneven prongs on the forks and misshapen bowls on the spoons. Sometimes, a silversmith will cut down and reshape either the fork prongs or the spoon bowls. In this case the shape will improve but the fork prongs will become short and the spoon bowls will end up thin. We always make sure that the prongs are good and long and the spoons have a nice, properly formed bowl. Otherwise, we just don’t buy them.
The second important thing we check for is to make sure that the decoration is in good condition. If the set has been over polished, the decoration appears rubbed and soft. In extreme cases, there may even be areas where the decoration becomes indistinct. At I.Franks we only buy flatware where the decoration is in good condition.
When comparing sets of antique flatware, its important to take the condition into account. A worn out set will be considerably cheaper than a good condition one. So, if you see cheaper flatware elsewhere, make sure to check the condition carefully.
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