Trash or Treasure?

Col—Trash—11.20.13What exactly is ‘Coin’ Silver?

Q. I have some very old spoons that I inherited. They have some names  on them, but I really do not know what they are and if the spoons are worth anything. Can you help?

A. Your spoons were made by Pardon Miller who lived and worked in Providence in the early 1800’s. His restored house still exists is on the East Side on Angell Street. These spoons date to circa 1830. The stamps are “P. Miller” and “Providence, RI”. They are not stamped “sterling” because they were made prior to the sterling silver standard in the United States. The spoons are “coin silver”. If you look at and hold one of these spoons and compare it with a modern spoon you will notice that the the coin silver spoon is lighter and thinner than a modern spoon.
Silver at that time was expensive; mostly in part because most of it was imported from Europe. The first significant silver mine in the United States did not open until 1859. American currency at that time still had plenty of francs, pounds and pieces of eight around. Silversmiths would commonly melt down coins due to a shortage of silver, thus the term “coin silver.” They also would actively buy used wares to melt down and turn into new wares. These coins had a lower silver content (usually 90%) and in the 1850’s the United States adopted the British standard of 92.5% part silver (the remaining would be copper) which became known as “sterling silver.” Your spoons in perfect condition would sell for around $40 each.

Karen Waterman is a fine art, antique furniture and decorative arts appraiser in the East Bay area and will answer as many questions about your own “hidden treasures” as possible. By sending a letter or email with a question, your give full permission for use in the column. Names, addresses or e-mail will not be published and photos will be returned if requested. Send e-mails (digital photos are encouraged) to trashortreasure@ymail.com. Send snail mail to East Bay Newspapers, Attn. Karen Waterman, PO. Box 90, Bristol, RI 02809.

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