What to look for when buying a vintage silver plate cutlery set

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Choosing a vintage silver plate cutlery set can be a difficult thing.
There are several things to ask when deciding on a set. I have purchased many sets over the past ten years and have found asking buyers pertinent questions is extremely important. You don't want to spend a lot of money and be disappointed. A good seller should describe the set well and tell you if there is any wear scratches or scuff marks but many overlook this.
There are many reputable vintage brands available. In Australia some of the most popular are Rodd, Grosvenor and Luke. There were others both in Australia and Internationally who also produced high quality silver plate.  Once you have found a pattern or design you like there are several things to look for.

1. Ask what is written on the back of the pieces and the blades of the knives if the seller has not included photos. Often sellers may say a set is a particular brand and you find once it is in your hands that the knives are not matched to the set or there is an odd spoon or fork. This can be perfectly fine in some cases but not in others.

2. If the back has numbers like 18/10 or 18/8 you are looking at stainless steel not silver plate. EPNS stands for electroplated nickel silver or  silver plate. EP , NS and Plate can also be seen.  European silver plate will often have numbers indicating the thickness of the plating. Those usually seen are 30 on smaller pieces, 60, 90 and sometimes 100. 90 and 100 are the thickest plating. Some pieces will only have the brand. Once you have asked the seller what is written on the pieces do your homework by searching the internet so you know what you are buying.

3. Check the knife handles.  Hollow handled silver plate knives indicate a higher quality set over solid flattish silver plate handles.

4. If the knives have faux bone handles ask if the brand to all the knives is the same and ask if they are all the same colour and have no staining. Ask that the blades are tight and up close to the handles and have no splits. Are the handles smooth and glossy?

5. Ask the buyer about the condition of the silver plate. Is there is any lifting of the plating. Are there any dark spots or tiny bubbles? Are there deep scratches? Are there any dents? Are the hollow handles secure with neatly seated blades? Is there any corrosion or spotting to the blades?  Is there any wear through of the plating? Are there any splits to the knife handles. Fine usage scratches are quite acceptable but you want to know that there hasn't been harsh scratching.

6. The set may be described as tarnished and needing a polish. I have found any set needing a polish cannot be properly assessed for wear or marks. Tarnish can cover many faults so be aware of this when bidding.

7. Take care when buying a 'never used' setting. Certainly there are many sets that may have only been used once or twice but my experience of buying 'never used' sets has not been entirely good. These could have sat in the shed for thirty years and suffered water damage, corrosion, spotting and handle splits. They certainly have not been used but may not be in good condition either. So asking the above questions is extremely important so you won't be disappointed.

8. If a seller does not answer your questions or is vague about answering then I have found the wisest thing to do is not purchase the set.

9. Lastly beware large Italian silver plate sets. They are often cheaply made and the plating will wear off very quickly. The castings are poor and the edges rough. They may be marked 800 to the backs with other marks. (They are not solid silver but plated with a purity of 800 silver) These sets often come in large flat boxes sometimes with a hounds tooth black and white covering with individual pieces held in place with elastic. The knife handles are flat and solid. I found out the hard way in my early years on eBay and purchased a set only to find when I polished it the plating came off with the polish.

Once you are satisfied with a setting and have decided to purchase there is one last thing to ask of the seller. To ensure the set arrives in the condition it was described in ask that it be carefully packed so it does not rattle around loose in a box. Seems a logical thing to do but I have had one setting that was rarely used packed in a shoe box with no internal wrapping to arrive very scratched and scuffed as it banged around inside the box in transit.
Once home your set should be used regularly. Silver loves to be used and develops a patina all of its own and rarely needs polishing. If you do need to clean your silver there are a few good brands of polish to choose from the supermarket. Silver cloths are also a good  way of quickly buffing your pieces and keeping them in good order.
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