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Modern Silver and Antique Silver

Despite specialising in antique silver, we understand that there is space for both antique and modern silverware in the home. Some people have a strict preference for antique silverware, valuing the history and craftsmanship behind the piece. Others prefer modern silverware, with the value being placed in the fact that they are the original owner of a brand new item. Many, however, simply ask:


‘What is the difference between contemporary and antique silver? And why choose one over the other?’


Well, obviously the key difference between antique silverware and modern silverware is that one is old and one is new. But exactly how old is antique? And how new is modern? Let’s break it down. Most consider everything over 100 years old to be antique. At AC Silver, however, we class everything up to 1939 as antique; items ranging from 1940 to 1995 are classed by us as vintage, and everything from 1996 to the present day is categorised as contemporary. These are some pretty broad categories, and so obviously the variety of silverware in each period is exceptionally vast. This is good news, though, as this means that whether you’re looking for something antique and classic, modern and reflective of an older style (like this handsome chap to the right perhaps), or brand new and revolutionary, you’re guaranteed to find what you’re looking for within the spectrum of the provided dates.


Modern vs Antique Silverware


The methods for creating silverware are largely the same now as they were in the craft’s origins. Silver as a metal is not ideal for machine work, and is therefore hard to mass-produce; due to this, silversmithing has not advanced in the same way as most other crafts. The best way to work silver is still by hand, which leads to many people using the feel of a silver item to judge its quality. One difference to consider, though, is the fact that – in the past – silver factories had hundreds of workers all creating the same items, split into sections of specialities: chasing, planishing, and hand-raising for example. Although factories of hundreds of workers all creating silverware do still exist, in many cases it is more common today to purchase contemporary silverware from independent silversmiths, working out of small workshops, often in their own homes. But what does this mean for the differences between antique silver and modern silver?


Attention to detail and quality is something that persists throughout the ages when it comes to the production of silverware. Working by hand means that every little crevice and inlay is tended to thoroughly, which is reassuring for those looking to buy. Just look at these magnificent contemporary sterling silver table ornaments, every detail has been tended to, and the result is an immaculate piece of art. This is also an example of how modern silver can be deceptive, as – at a glance – you might never guess that this piece was made in 2015. Modern silverware has this benefit – it can draw inspiration from creations of the past, and in many ways mimic the popular styles and methods of crafting, leading to a piece such as the one below, seemingly timeless, but in reality, very modern indeed.


One distinct advantage of modern silver is that you can commission any specific item for any occasion. For example, you may be looking for a presentation piece for a society or charity. Having a bespoke item made is a very special way to commemorate an event, and buying new means you can request details which relate directly to the event in question. It is a possibility, however, to combine old and new, an antique presentation cup paired with a bespoke modern plinth can create a new kind of beauty in and of itself. Another thing is the simple fact that modern silver can emulate styles of times gone by, whereas a significant amount of antique silver is contemporary to its own time, and is therefore limited in many stylistic respects – though you might never guess some pieces are as old as they are, since the fashion of their design has been popular more recently as well. Modern silver seems to be more related to semantics and personal expression, whereas antique silver is very much oriented around the traditional practises of the craft, with many items bearing a resemblance to one another as they are each attempts at a specific design. Don’t be shocked if you find that some modern silverware pays homage to the traditions of the past, particularly the items themselves. For example, this sterling silver stirrup cup, although made in 2012, references the antiquated practise of hunting, bearing a striking resemblance to stirrup cups dating back more than a century.


Antique silver does have its own significance, it is important to remember. Buying antique silver is a real investment, as each piece will only increase in value as it ages, provided it receives good and proper care. Antique silverware is also appealing to many because it is such a novelty; not many people can claim to own something as old and valuable as a fine piece of antique silverware. Certain antique items have a record of their ownership and history, and so purchasing antique also becomes a way of engaging with history, and ensuring that a part of you continues one with the item.


The Final Verdict


The decision of whether to buy antique or modern silverware really depends on what the buyer prioritises. Do you place more value in owning something that has a lineage dating back hundreds of years? Or do you prefer the idea of being the first to own an item? Would your preference be to buy an item that was crafted by a famous silversmith from a different time? Or would you rather support a local business and buy from someone you can meet personally?


For us, it is the standard and quality of a piece which makes it truly valuable and worth purchasing, rather than whether or not it is antique or modern. There are clearly benefits to both, and ultimately the question is not about whether or not you should buy antique silverware or modern silverware. Instead, ask yourself what matters more to you when you are looking to spend your money on a precious valuable. Rest assured knowing that whatever you’re looking for, you’re sure to find it amongst the vast array of silverware – both antique and modern – that the world has to offer.


Bethany Massey

Bethany MasseyDigital Assistant (Content Creator)

Having graduated university with a BA in English Literature and an MA in Creative Writing Bethany then joined the AC Silver team as a content creator. Bethany spends her days writing content for the AC Silver blog and other luxury goods/antique blogs.

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Andrew Campbell started trading in Antique Silver in the 1970's. Initially, Andrew lived in the South of England, travelling the country, searching for items of silver to buy. Andrew sold these items at various London markets and antique fairs. Over time, and through selling at a range of venues, Andrew built up a large and diverse customer base from private buyers to national and international trade customers.
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