The Value of Georgian 18th Century Silver from a Modern Perspective

I am often asked what the value of Georgian silver in the 18th century was and how much did items of silverware cost to make. To determine this answer from a modern perspective, one must establish the cost of the raw material (i.e. silver) and then ally that to the cost of workmanship. The easiest way to establish this is to find a relatively standard item – which is still being made today – and comparing it with the price of the same item in the 18th century.

The next calculation, which is somewhat trickier, is to adjust all this to over two centuries of inflation. To assist me in my quest for the answer, I have used an extract from a cutlery retailers bill from 1787 and compared it with the cost of the same items today.



As to how much should be adjusted for the increase in prices since 1787, I have referred to the work of Professor Robert D Hume who calculated in 2014, that the adjusted buying power for the period in question should be in the 200 – 300 times range. Seeing that there has been about 10 percent cumulative inflation since 2014 – 2021, I have therefore decided to use a multiplier of 275 times. This is somewhat interesting as the price of gold in 1787 was £4.23 per ounce, and if one multiplies this by 275 times, one gets to a figure of £1,163 per ounce (the actual price on April 25th 2021 is £1280 per ounce). From this we can see that gold has pretty much maintained its purchasing power.

Moving on to silver, the price of an ounce of silver was approximately just over 5 shillings (about 27 pence per ounce in modern money). This computes to about £75 per ounce and from this we can establish, that unlike gold – which has broadly maintained its purchasing power – silver (£18.70 per ounce on April 25th, 2021) has lost about three quarters of its purchasing power since 1787.

Having established the relative price of silver we must now compare the cost of labour needed to hand forge the silver into the finished article. For this purpose, I am comparing the price of a thread pattern tablespoon from the retailers bill of 1787 and comparing it to an equivalent hand forged modern equivalent (not the much cheaper and inferior machine stamped and hand finished cutlery that is made in over 95 percent of instances today).



From the 1787 bill, we see that 24 double threaded tablespoons cost £29.50 for 24 (£1.23 each) approx. £338 per piece today. Knowing that the weight of each spoon is 2.37 troy ounces, we can establish that the silver was around £178 to make the spoon and the labour around £160 – showing that the silver component was worth slightly more than the cost of labour.


This is the hallmark for the illustrated Georgian silver spoon made by George Smith and William Fearn, one of the largest manufacturers  of flatware in the 18th century.


Approximately £178 in today’s money for the silver and around the same for labour. Today the silver value is a mere fraction of the finished value. The silver component is around £44 and the labour component almost ten times the raw material cost (£436). So where does this leave us? I have cross referenced my findings with other articles and have worked out that labour was approximately three times cheaper in 1787 than it is today.

Have you ever wondered why modern buildings and many other items are so dull and devoid of craftsmanship? Cost! When we come to the actual value of the 1787 spoon today, I would sell the 1787 original spoon for around £80 – £90, which, I suppose, tells us how undervalued old silver is compared to its new equivalent… And indeed its original 1787 price and how daft it would be from a financial point of view to purchase newly made spoons and forks! It would seem somewhat crazy to buy a hand-forged new spoon for £480 when one can buy its historic 1787 equivalent for £80 – £90.

In my next musings I shall try to update the new price of silver from the 1930s into a modern context using my Grandfather’s 1931 manufacturers’ price list. One thing that is rather amazing is that by 1931, the real price of silver in today’s prices (2021) had collapsed from a price of £75 in 1787 to a price of approximately £7 to £10 per ounce during the 1930s.

What is Georgian Silver?

Georgian silver is silverware produced and belonging to the Georgian era that ranged over a 120 year period between 1714 – 1837. Although William IV, with the death of George IV, ascended the throne in 1830 (and was obviously not a George) he is generally brought into the conversation. The Georgian Kings were: George I (1714-27); George II (1727-60); George III (1760 – 1820); George IV (1820-30) and William IV (1830-7). The period in question saw many developments across Britain and the rest of the world. With Britain through empire and industrialisation amassing great wealth, which was being expressed in all forms of art, with creations in silver an integral part of this.


Antique Silver George I Tea Caddy

( Tea Caddy made by Thomas Parr  of London in 1715 )


At the beginning of the George I period, silver tended to be of a restrained form without much ornament – as illustrated by this tea caddy of 1715 made by Thomas Parr of London. However, the French Huguenot refugee silversmiths – who entered London in the late 17th and early 18th century – were already creating a shift in silversmithing techniques and their style of decoration. This really started to manifest itself by the early 1730s when the most important silversmiths of the day, such as Paul de Lamerie, Peter Archambo, Paul Crespin and several others were introducing a restrained Rococo ornamentation to their productions.


silver georgian kettle

 (Kettle & Stand, Peter Archambo of London 1739-40)


By the early 1740’s to mid-1750’s full blown Rococo

(Rococo Cake Basket made by Samuel Herbert of London in 1751)

and emphasis on cast and applied work, hand chasing and bold decorative motifs.


It always must be kept in mind that plain styles, notably in items such as sauce boats, tankards and mugs, kept their place amidst the new Rococo creations. Indeed, it would be remiss not to mention that a tankard or mug of the 18th century with any form of Rococo ornament, with a few exceptions (and I mean a few), has normally been tampered with by a silversmith of the 19th century whose clients demanded mugs and tankards with floral decoration, hunting scenes and suchlike.

By the later 1750’s and early 1760’s, a sudden confluence of differing styles started to compete for attention. Chinese influence in art was making quite an impact (think Kew Gardens pagoda built 1761-2) and the other new boy on the scene as it were was the rise of neoclassicism, which leant heavily on designs from Greece and Rome which were made fashionable by the Grand Tour.

(Wine Coasters in “Chinese Chippendale Style” with the crest of the Archbishop of Canterbury made by Samuel Herbert of London in 1765)


(Set of Four neoclassical Candlesticks made for the Earl of Hillsborough in 1767)

Hillsborough Castle has been a grand family home , modelled in the neoclassical form which is now the official home of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and a royal residence. Members of the Royal Family stay at Hillsborough when visiting Northern Ireland.

Within these new styles the older Rococo styles still carried weight right up until the 1770’s and the styles were sometimes mixed.


A George III Antique Silver Epergne

(Epergne, 1768 London made by Butty and Dumee, which exhibits elements of Chinese style within the Rococo elements)


By the later 1770s and early 1780s, the use of engraving with steel tools – often referred to as “Bright Cut” – became popular and it was a way of decorating a plain surface in a much more delicate and lighter style than in previous periods.

Antique Silver Salver

(Salver with bright cut engraving , made by John Hutson of London in 1786 with the crest of Hobson)


The engraving of silver in the 1780’s and 1790’s has never been bettered, and there is no one today that I have seen who can match the sort of quality hand engraving that was produced in the latter part of the 18th century. The 1790’s and very early 1800’s were characterized by very simple forms, often with minimal decoration and sometimes with subtle fluting.


A Pair of George III Sterling Silver three light Candelabra

(Pair of Candelabra made in 1796 by John Green of Sheffield)


Set of Four George III Antique Sterling Silver Candlesticks

(Set of Four Candlesticks made in 1802 by Nathaniel Smith of Sheffield)


By the time of the Battle of Trafalgar (1805) a boldness and robustness was replacing the lighter more delicate styles, with Royal Goldsmiths, such as Paul Storr and John Bridge, setting the benchmark. A style that was introduced (although quite rare) was the taste for all things Egyptian. This was very fashionable amongst the upper echelons of society in the early 1800′ ws after Nelson’s victory at the battle of the Nile in 1798. 


George IV Sterling Silver epergne centrepiece

(Centrepiece made in the Egyptian taste  by Royal Goldsmith, John Bridge in 1824)


By the later George III period and into the George IV period in the 1820’s, the Rococo taste came roaring back with some extremely decorative and exotic pieces being made.

tea set

( A late Rococo Tea & Coffee service made in 1820 by Craddock & Reid of London)


As we move into the 1830s and later, styles are quite complex as they are often quite blended in form and not so obviously distinct in character.

In summary, whilst there are quite distinct periods stylistically, there is often a lot of overlap and fluidity within this. Clients often say to me “I want it Georgian because it’s plain” or “I don’t like Victorian because it’s ornate” – the actual reality is that the plainest silver is produced in the Georgian period, and some of the most decorative. For example, just look at the four candlesticks from 1802 compared to the tea and coffee service of 1820 – only 18 years apart but stylistically so different.

Author: John Walter

How to Test Silver for Authenticity

Silver has long been valued as a precious metal – used for jewellery, silverware, coins and other products. The standard for silver items is 92.5 % silver and no more than 7.5 % base metal, usually copper.

You have a prized silver antique collection, but do you know if it is solid silver of simply silver plated?

Silver plating was developed as an inexpensive way for people who could not afford sterling (or solid silver) to enjoy the beauty of the metal without the hefty price tag. In fact, some manufacturers got so good at creating silver plated items that it is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between the two. Unfortunately, when it comes to the value of your antiques, whether you have solid or plated silver makes a big difference, so it is important to be able to differentiate between the two.

Look for a stamp

The first thing you can do is to look for hallmarks or stamps on the silver. Most countries require pure silver to be stamped, showing details and silver content.

If you notice a stamp on your antique silver, use a magnifying glass to inspect it closely. International sellers commonly use the numeric values, as they will indicate the percentage of fine silver that is found in the piece. For example, a piece stamped with 925 will indicate that the item is 92.5% silver.

The new full hallmark also has 925, where as prior to 1999 you only had to have the lion passant.


hallmarks from the london assay office


A hallmark means that the article has been independently tested. It also:

  • Guarantees that it conforms to all legal standards of purity (fineness).
  • Guarantees provenance by telling us where the piece was hallmarked, what the article is made from and who sent the article for hallmarking.
  • The standard hallmark formation is horizontal with minimal spacing between the marks.

Other formations of these hallmarks, often called “bespoke” or “display marks” are available. Hallmarking is a fascinating subject and will be covered in future blogs. If your antique silver does not have a stamp, it may have simply been produced in a country that does not stamp its solid silver products, but you should follow up with an additional test.

Testing and hallmarking precious metals for over 700 years

The Goldsmiths’ Company Assay Office is where hallmarking began and have been testing and hallmarking precious metals for over 700 years.

They have been responsible for guaranteeing the purity of items made of precious metals since 1300, when the hallmarking statute was passed. They became the official “home of hallmarking” in 1478, establishing the country’s first Assay Office at Goldsmiths’ Hall London, which still operates today.

Get Your Piece Evaluated

There is an amount of misleading information on the internet about how to test for silver so, if you still are not sure about whether your antique is solid silver or silver plated, there are a variety of great professionals out there that can give you some insight. An antique dealer, auctioneer, appraiser or estate sale company should be able to examine your item and tell you about its silver composition.

How Much is Silver Worth?

Silver is a precious metal with a very unique set of characteristics. 

Silver has both high sentimental value and manufacturing/industrial value, much more so than gold, platinum and palladium. 

The price of silver per troy ounce in 2020 varied between £21.70 and £10.28 with an average of £18.20. The average price has risen by +£5.17 (+40.63%). 

Of course, whilst the intrinsic value of pure elemental silver is important when valuing any silver item or object, if you’re looking for a valuation on antique silver, then there are many other factors involved than the price of silver alone. 

Is Silver a Safe-Haven Investment?

Silver is considered a ‘safe-haven’ investment. That means that it retains its value well when ‘paper money’ or fiat currency is in a state of considerable fluctuation or decline (e.g. recession). 

However, silver’s price and value are influenced by its industrial uses and it is, therefore, more volatile than gold. Silver is used widely in industries such as the energy industry, medical industry and electronics industry. 

The supply and demand economics of these industries influences silver’s price considerably. 

The Historical Price of Silver 

The price of silver has changed much more in recent years compared to other precious metals owing to its rapidly proliferating industrial uses. 

Silver has been considered valuable to some extent for thousands of years. The silver trade was hugely influential across ancient Europe, Asia and the Americas and according to economic historians, it was silver, not gold, that formed the foundations of our modern economy. 

Silver’s uses have always been wider-ranging than other precious metals. The modern uses of silver changed dramatically in the 1800s when silver was used in early photographic printing techniques. Through the early 1990s, silver was mined heavily for the medical industry due to its potent antibiotic and healing properties. In 1920s America, over 3 million prescriptions were written out for silver-based products. 

The value of silver is closely linked to its industrial uses and their impact on the supply and demand of silver. Due to its diverse uses, the supply and demand for silver is much more variable than gold (where only 15% of its value is created from industrial uses vs 50%+ for silver). 

The industrial uses of silver influence its price greatly as demand fluctuates with technological development. This accounts for the volatility of silver vs gold. 

The price of silver is still heavily attached to its sentimental value and use in antiques and high-value artisan silverware, though, and this partly helps silver retain its use as a safe-haven investment. 

The Economics Of Silver Supply and Demand

The supply and demand market for silver is lively and constantly changing. 

Silver’s value will remain high or rise if there is a supply-demand deficit, meaning that there is not enough silver mined/produced to satisfy demand. When new technologies are discovered that utilise silver, e.g. solar panel manufacture, silver becomes more scarce and sought-after, thus increasing its price until supply stabilises. 

One example is the 2011 silver spike which saw the value of silver reach a near-historical high. This was largely due to a massive demand surplus for silver for solar panel engineering. 

The peak value of silver in 2011 was £29.26 a troy  oz. vs £17.91 today, which is still very high vs past averages. It must noted in that in 1979, the price reached £20.00 a troy oz which allow for inflation, equates to £100.00. Historically in the 18th century the price per troy oz, in today’s money was £60.00 to £70.00.  

Silver’s price will also depend on mining techniques. Right now, silver is both mined and produced as a by-product of mining and refining other metals such as copper and lead. As mining and production methods for silver become insufficient, its price could also rise as supplying silver becomes a more expensive endeavour.  

Silver as an Investment

Silver is still considered a ‘safe-haven’ investment like gold. Its fluctuating price provides a different challenge for investors than gold – it’s certainly possible to make shorter-term trades with silver compared to gold due to more volatile industrial market conditions. 

Silver is frequently also used alongside gold as a ‘hedge’ investment. Riskier investments can be hedged against safe-haven investments like precious metals that will likely retain their value. 

What About Antique Silver?

The economics of elemental silver is not the same as the economics of antique silver and the value is also not easy to compare. 

Most antique silver is not even made from pure silver but sterling silver, an alloy with 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper (and traces of other metals). Another less common high-quality silver alloy is Britannia silver (95.8% pure silver). 

Sterling silver and other alloys are used instead of pure silver as they’re much harder than pure silver itself. Pure elemental silver is soft, ductile and malleable and ultimately not ideal for creating practical items that are handled regularly.  

The Value of Antique Silver

Silver, by weight, is not a valuable metal when it comes to antiques. Whilst there is scrap value to silverware, the value of antique silver largely emanates from other factors relating to the piece itself, its maker and when it was made. An example would be, a 2 troy oz spoon made in the reign of Henry VIII could be £30,000.00, whereas a 2 troy oz spoon made in the 1790s would be £50.00.

Like any antique, silverware is valued based on what can be identified of the piece. The vast majority of European silverware can be identified from hallmarks, maker’s marks and style. Whilst there is a vast quantity of commercial, mass-made silverware in circulation, there are also some very exclusive pieces with exceptional value. 

Prolific examples include silverware crafted by Paul Storr and Mappin and Webb and Hester Bateman.

Valuing Silverware 

To value silverware, it must first be positively identified as sterling silver or another similar high-quality silver alloy. Silver-plated items are nowhere near as valuable as genuine sterling silver pieces. It is usually easy to identify silver-plated items as these are brighter and shinier compared to the deeper grey-metal lustre of genuine sterling silver. 

Genuine antique sterling silver items made across Europe from around the 1600s/1700s onwards will practically always have some sort of hallmark or maker’s mark. 

If a piece has a verified antique origin and is genuine sterling silver then it will have a value. Pieces from prolific makers or with particularly old origins will be worth the most. There is no substitute for a professional valuation – you would be surprised by the value of some unassuming looking silverware.

What is Sterling Silver?

Silver is a precious metal that has captured our imaginations for thousands of years. Silver plays an enormous role in all of culture and society and is treasured for its both its aesthetic beauty and incredibly useful elemental profile. 

Perhaps one of the most familiar and well-known uses for silver is in the design and manufacture of silverware. 

When we talk about antiques and other silverware, we are actually likely discussing sterling silver and not pure elemental silver. Sterling silver is a silver alloy, typically containing 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% other metals including copper and often small quantities of nickel and traces of other elements. 

The reason sterling silver is used for creating usable objects including antique silver is because true pure elemental silver (99.9%+ purity) is very soft, malleable and ductile – too soft to serve much practical use. Whilst pure silver can be easily shaped and crafted into objects, these quickly lose their form or shape. 

A Short History of Silver

Silver is one of seven antiquity-era metals that were known and used across classical and ancient civilisations including gold, copper, lead, mercury, iron and tin. 

Silver has a long and illustrious history and was the choice metal for minting coins for thousands of years. The ancient Mesopotamians mined silver in the 4th millennium BCE, using it as an early form of currency. The ancient Egyptians once considered silver almost as valuable as gold and with mines spread across Spain, Greece, Italy and Anatolia, silver mining and trade was the origin of many ancient historical conflicts. 

Across ancient Japan, China and Korea and in South America, silver was also highly sought after for its practical and aesthetic qualities, quickly becoming a prized metal for the richest members of society. 

Silver Today

Silver is often compared to gold and platinum, but actually, it is by far the most useful metal of the trio and that’s why it is mined in much greater abundance. 

Whilst platinum is used in the medical industry, e.g. for fillings, and gold in electronics manufacture due to its excellent electrical conductivity and corrosion resistance, silver is a potent antibiotic and antibacterial agent and is also used to purify water, create batteries and dye paints amongst hundreds of other uses. Silver is also the most electrically conductive element on the planet, but gold is slightly favoured in electronics due to its better corrosion resistance. 

Silver’s wide range of uses means that silver is mined more abundantly than gold – some 1.5 million tons of silver have been mined vs some 200,000 tons of gold

Despite silver’s value not quite matching up to gold and platinum, it still has an exceptionally high value and as it is used much more frequently than other precious metals, its value is expected to soar in the coming decades. Silver demand is currently high and supply is also high, but once silver resources begin to deplete – and this is forecast to happen soon – the value of silver including sterling silver could indeed spike dramatically. 

Sterling Silver Antiques 

Throughout several millennia of use, sterling silver has been the material of choice for many craftspeople, artists, artisans, metallurgists and others who work with metals. It is more accessible, abundant and flexible than gold; easier to shape into bolder, more complex designs. 

Silversmiths such as the Bateman Family, Garrards Silversmiths and Paul Storr gained prolific status through the classical and neoclassical periods of the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s, creating fine sterling silverware for royalty, the rich aristocracy and upper classes throughout the world. 

In essence, the true value of silver is brought about by its widespread use in antiques and the diversity of work for which it has facilitated. 

The prized work of these silversmiths and others have become some of the finest, most sought-after items in the world of antiques. 

How To Identify Sterling Silver

When you put highly polished sterling silver next to pure silver, they are quite hard to tell apart. 

However, over time, sterling silver will develop a darker telltale patina that creates a soft lustre that polishes up into an impressive shine. 

Sterling silver and silver can also be identified by their hallmarks or maker’s marks. Proper hallmarking was legally mandated across most of Europe in the 16th century, so most modern, classical and neoclassical pieces should be straightforward for an expert to identify. 

Marks and hallmarks aren’t just there to denote whether or not a piece is sterling silver or not, but they can also provide information on the silversmith, country and date of manufacture.

Since 1973, the European Community (EC) decided for 925 to be the standard mark to denote sterling silver – identifying modern silver pieces should be easy. 

Looking After Sterling Silver

Sterling silver is tough and durable, so it should look after itself. After all, this is why we can enjoy such a diverse array of antique silver today! 

Most of the time, gently polishing sterling silver is the only thing you’ll need to do to maintain it. Some older sterling silver may accumulate corrosion in its grooves and crevices and this can be removed with white spirit or methylated spirit, as indicated by the Victoria and Albert Museum

The key to polishing silver is to be gentle and to consider the piece. Some pieces will not benefit from harsh cleaning and it could also affect their value. Pieces from the 19th century, in particular, were deliberately oxidised, creating an overall darker silver tone. This should be preserved to preserve the historical provenance of the antique. 

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