Sterling Silver Appraisals
These days the price of silver is high. This is a good time to turn your old silver into cash, but, naturally, you want to get an independent idea of what your old silver—flatware, jewelry, and coins—would be worth before you approach a buyer. If you have a considerable amount of old silver to sell, you will find it helpful to go to a licensed silver appraiser and get a silver appraisal. The American Society of Appraisers (ASA) has a website that will help you find one.
The trouble is that there is no single answer to the question, what is this silver worth? It depends. Suppose you know that Aunt Sue paid $45 in 1935 for the silverware you inherited from her. Well, that original price (even adjusted for inflation) has little to do with any of today’s silver appraisals.
If you get a silverware appraisal, the appraiser will consider two things: the replacement value and the fair market value of the pieces. The replacement value is what it would cost to buy the same number of pieces in a similar pattern and of the same quality today. (This is sometimes called the “insurance” value, because insurance companies use this number in their appraisal of your silver.) The fair market value, on the other hand, is the average price a willing buyer would pay to a willing seller for the same item, and a silver flatware appraisal would be based on finding the price for which similar items were sold in your area in the recent past.
The fair market value is not quite the same thing as “retail” value, which can be misleading. If you bypass the appraiser and go directly to a retailer with your flatware or jewelry, remember that the retailer’s purpose in life is to sell things to you, not to buy them from you. The retailer will tell you the “trade-in” value of the piece, that is, how much he will take off the price of an item he wants to sell you if you trade in your old piece and buy the new one. You need to remember that the price of the new item the retailer wants to sell is already marked up, so the retailer can quote you an artificially high “trade-in” value to persuade you to buy the new item. There is nothing unethical about this, but you should keep in mind that what a retailer is willing to give as a trade-in is not the same thing as the item’s replacement or fair market value, and is typically a lot higher. The bottom line is that if you want an appraisal of your silver, go to a licensed silver appraiser.
In these days of high silver prices, however, the melt value of the silver makes the option of simply selling your old silver to a refiner very attractive. Unlike the replacement and fair market values, the melt value of your silver is based on the quantity of pure silver you have and the current price of silver, with the refiners paying you about 80% of the spot price of silver on the day they buy it from you. The refiners will assay the silver you send them, compute the price, and cut you a check all in one smooth operation.
Of course, you could buy a chemical assay kit, along with a jeweler’s scale to weigh the silver in Troy ounces; but before you try to make your own formal appraisal of your silver, here are a few ideas that will help you form a realistic estimate.
First of all, be aware that nothing you have around the house is going to be pure silver, and the amount of pure silver determines the price the refiner will pay you.
Genuine sterling silver is 92.5% pure. If you don’t want to go to the expense of getting a sterling silver appraisal, look for the number 925 (or the letters “ster”) stamped next to the maker’s mark on the piece. Unfortunately, not everything so stamped is really genuine sterling, and getting a silver flatware appraisal is the only way to know for sure. Nevertheless, without the 925 or “ster” stamp, what you have is probably only silver-plated.
Value of Silver Coins
The melt value of silver coins (and especially silver dollars) is something that you should consider, given today’s high prices. Of course, the first thing to do is get an idea of whether the coins themselves are valuable. Again, the ASA website will help you find someone licensed to do a silver dollar appraisal. You might also consider getting a copy of Scott A. Travers’ book, “The Coin Collector’s Survival Manual” (Random House: 6th ed. 2008). The silver dollars you are most likely to have stashed around the house were probably minted between 1922 and 1935 (the so-called “Peace Dollars”). Somewhat rarer are those minted between 1878 and 1921 (the so-called “Liberty Head” or “Morgan” dollars). Depending on numerous factors that go into silver dollar appraisals, as a coin, one of these can be worth anything from a few dollars up to $200. As minted, however, these coins contained 0.7736 Troy ounces of silver. Allowing for wear, you can estimate the melt price at 60% of the spot price of silver for each of these dollars. On Monday, August 3, 2009 that would have been about $8.60 per coin. But remember that the price changes every day, and that what you get will depend on the spot price the day the refiner processes your shipment.
A word of warning about more recent silver dollars: the Eisenhower dollar, the Susan B. Anthony dollar, and the Sacajawea dollar all contain no silver worth mentioning. You can trade any one of these for exactly $1 at the local market. History repeats itself. Until the 1960s, a dollar was worth more than the value of the silver in a silver dollar, and the same is true today with respect to these modern “silver” dollars.