Finding Value in Cutlery from the Golden Age of Silver Electroplating

Did you know that there was a “golden age” of silver plating that lasted from about 1880 until 1960? It was a time when production of silver-plated tableware was at an all-time high. If you own a large quantity of silver-plated knives, forks, and spoons from those years, you could have something valuable. In the early years of that “golden age” especially, manufacturers often applied thicker layers of silver plating than were common in later years.

Why the “Golden Age” of Silver Electroplating Happened

Image showing sterling silver flatware, silver-plated tableware and hollowware that Specialty Metals can refine and recycle profitably for your company.

During the second half of the nineteenth century, a new kind of upper class emerged. Its members were not royalty or landed gentry, but magnates who had amassed fortunes during the industrial revolution. As they built lavish homes for entertaining, they needed quantities of fine sterling silver tableware. A number of manufacturers started smelting silver and making vast quantities of tableware to meet the demand.

Then the twentieth century dawned and the number of middle-class Americans grew dramatically. They also wanted to entertain, and they also wanted to put out elegant-looking silver tableware for their guests. The problem was, they often couldn’t afford pure silver place settings. For these upwardly mobile people, the answer was silver-plated tableware. It looked as elegant as the “real thing,” unless guests flipped it over to squint at the fine print that indicated that it was only silver-plated. Many companies rushed in to produce silver-plated flatware, including F.B. Rogers, Lunt, Meriden Britannia, Middletown Plate, and the International Silver Company. 

It was also a time when new markets suddenly evolved for other products too. The Ford Model T offered ordinary people – not millionaires – a chance to own cars. It was before the age of television, so sales of radios and record players surged. It was the golden age of piano manufacturing in America too – a time when the piano, not the flat screen TV, often functioned as the home entertainment center.

Enter Stainless Steel

One drawback of silver-plated tableware was that it tarnished, just like the fully silver tableware that it imitated. Keeping a set of it shiny could be a labor-intensive hobby. That’s one reason why people quickly began to buy stainless steel cutlery as soon as it was introduced.

One milestone? In 1961, the tableware manufacturer Oneida improved the process of manufacturing tableware from stainless steel. Oneida began to market stainless steel tableware alongside silver-plated. Within 10 years, the company was manufacturing much more stainless tableware than silver-plated. Other makers of stainless entered the market too – companies like Liberty, Reed & Barton, Lunt, Williamsburg, as well as a number of Asian manufacturers – and the sales of silver-plated tableware decreased even more. The golden age of silver plating had come to a close.

What Is Your Silver-Plated Tableware Worth?

Pure silver tableware – not silver-plated – is worth much more than silver-plated, for several reasons. The first, of course, is that it contains more silver. But there is also the fact that some silver patterns from certain manufacturers are very much in demand by collectors. If you’re lucky enough to have pure silver tableware that is in a sought-after pattern, it could be worth far more than the value of the silver metal it contains. If you own a quantity of pure silver cutlery – or even a few pieces – it’s worth your while to contact a qualified appraiser to find out what it is worth.

The odds are lower that silver-plated items will be sought-after collectibles, but it does happen. That’s why – again – you should speak with an appraiser before deciding to scrap or recycle items that you own.

If you have a large quantity of silver-plated items – a collection of hundreds or thousands of pieces - you should contact an expert silver refinery. To learn more, call Specialty Metals Smelters and Refiners at 800-426-2344 and we can explain how you can recycle your silver-plated tableware profitably.


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