GOLD is at its highest ever price, which means collectable gold items will make even more than before. Where gold leads, silver will follow and, as I write this, silver is also close to its highest price ever. The proof is seen in the auction results for these items. The silver match box cases we have pictured are decorated with comedy and tragedy - a sort of antique version of anemoji – and they made £1,200, yet their scrap value was only £12. These were some of the best examples from the Sir Norman Adsetts collection of match box cases made by Omar Ramsden, who studied at Sheffield Art School. Omar Ramsden worked in the Arts & Crafts style and is perhaps the UK’s greatest 20th century silversmith.
Above: This 9ct gold ingot as a pendant shows a fine example of English gold hallmarks. Some of you may recall these pendants were popular in the 1970s. It now has an auction value of £550.
As the scrap price of precious metals is high, it means that collectable or fashionable items will have to make in excess of the scrap value and, in some cases, this can make an extreme difference. The Russian silver kovsh we have pictured made £3,180 in a recent specialist auction. If my client had taken it to a scrap buyer they would have got £190. It’s a no-brainer which route to choose! The kovsh is a traditional drinking vessel from Russia and is sometimes used as a ladle. It is usually oval-shaped like a boat with a single handle, although sometimes it is shaped like a Norse longship. Originally it was used to serve and drink mead; later examples are usually made from metal and sometimes carved out of wood and are often brightly painted with peasant motifs.
Above: Two of the best examples from the Sir Norman Adsetts collection of match box cases were these two silver pieces made by Omar Ramsden, who studied at Sheffield Art School. These two small matchsafes made £1,200 at a specialist auction
By the 17th century, the kovsh was an ornament rather than a practical vessel, and in the 19th century they were often elaborately cast in precious metals often for presentation as an official gift of the Tsarist government. Continental silver in particular can often be overlooked as the marks are very often unlike English silver hallmarks. It’s worth mentioning that English silver and gold hallmarks are the best in the world as they tell everything you need to know about a piece: what it is made of; the date it was made; where it was assayed; and who made it. These four marks have formed the core of the British hallmarking system from 1544 right through to the present day.
It is the continuity of this system, the strictness with which it is regulated and the wealth of information that it provides for the collector that makes British silver so popular. It is for these reasons that in earlier times a lack of understanding of British silver hallmarks meant that fake pieces were sold as silver, making knowledge of the hallmarking system of fundamental importance.
Continental pieces are often marked 800 or stamped ‘Sterling’ or sometimes have only a duty mark, as with an Italian hammered silver bowl bought by one of my Sheffield clients from a car boot sale for £5. During a recent valuation, I was asked to value a modern, silver coloured fruit bowl measuring 15 inches in diameter. As you can imagine, their expectation was very low, as they didn’t know it was silver. But the bowl had a tiny stamp – “800” - hidden near the rim and as it weighed approximately 20ozs, it now has an insurance value of £2,500.
It is unusual for Russian silverware to crop up during valuations, but it is important because it can be so valuable. It is very often made in silver gilt (solid silver with gold plating) and richly decorated in enamels, sometimes in unusual forms such as a ‘Bratina’- a large rounded bowl often engraved with inscriptions - as well as the ‘Kovsh’.
Below: A large Russian silver kovsh, with the makers mark in Cyrillic. The silver standard is 840, lower than the English sterling standard of 925. It is 15cm high, weighs 18ozs and it made £3,180 in a recent specialist auction. If my Baslow client had accepted a scrap price, they would only have received £190.
Above: The Russian maker’s silver marks on the kovsh.
Pieces made by Fabergé are, of course, at a premium with collectors. The family are of French origin and fled to Russia during the religious persecution of the French Protestants, or Huguenots as they became known.
It is the work of Carl Fabergé that is always particularly sought after as he was the ‘Goldsmith by special appointment to the Imperial Crown’. He is known for the Imperial Easter Eggs originally commissioned by Tsar Alexander III in 1885 as a present for his wife. The eggs became fashionable and small enamelled versions of Fabergé eggs can occasionally be found, sometimes in the form of pendants or bracelet charms as well as cabinet ornaments.
Editor's Note: Perhaps you also have antiques and collectables that might be valuable? If so, it is worth getting the advice of an Independent Antiques Valuer.
For further information, contact Vivienne on 01629 640210 or 07870 238788, or go to www.viviennemilburn.co.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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