How to Detect Modified Sterling and Silverplate Flatware
A number of modified flatware pieces regularly appear for sale on the internet at both auction and fixed-price web sites. A modified flatware item is a commonly-found piece which has been altered to make it appear to be a more valuable, rare or collectible piece. A large number of modifications occur with collectible or rare patterns, as well as pieces which were produced by very desirable manufacturers. Your primary defense for detecting modified production flatware pieces is to familiarize yourself with 1) the general length and shape of the commonly made pieces; and 2) which pieces were originally produced for the pattern or patterns in which you are interested in collecting.
These are some of the more prevalent modified items:
Baked Potato Fork: Modified forks were originally meat or other serving forks which have been altered by the removal of the center tine.
Butter Pick and Candle Snuffer: These items are made using the handles from authentic production pieces and adding the remainder of the piece in sterling silver, stainless steel or silverplate. We have also seen butter picks which were made from nut picks by twisting the end of the piece.
Cream Ladle: We have found modified cream ladles which were fashioned from what were originally bouillon or gumbo spoons.
Fruit Spoon: These are modified from regular teaspoons by altering the size, shape or edge of the bowl. A fruit spoon has either a serrated edge or a bowl which is narrower and smaller than a teaspoon.
Ice Cream, Terrapin and Ramekin Forks: These forks are often much like spoons except they have short tines. They are not generally available with modern services. Modifications are made from a variety of spoon styles. In many cases, but not always, the bowls of the authentic forks are ornate. If the tines seem too sharp for an old piece, even on seldomly used pieces, it could be an altered spoon.
Mustard Ladle: Modified mustard ladles are fashioned from teaspoons, iced tea spoons and other spoons.
Napkin Ring: Modified rings are made from large spoon handles, usually large soup or table serving spoons. Generally, if it looks like a spoon handle, it probably is a spoon handle.
Pierced Table Serving Spoon: Solid bowl table serving spoons are modified with piercings in the bowl. If the edges of the piercings seem sharp or crude, it could be a modified item.
Sugar Sifter: Modified sifters are generally made from regular sugar spoons or shells. If the piece is about the same size as a sugar spoon with the exception of the pierced bowl, it could very well be a modified item.
Many of these modified items can fool anyone who does not possess a solid background in this field. When shopping for silver online without the benefit of handling it prior to purchasing, check the dimensions, study the shape and do not hesitate to ask questions. Buy from knowledgeable antique silverware dealers who will honor returns. Remember, the above list includes only the most common examples of modified items.
Reprints of the old flatware manufacturer catalogs may be purchased online, particularly those for the most popular patterns. These reprints are valuable resources if your goal is to collect all the pieces which were originally produced in a particular pattern, or to identify unusual or uncommon pieces. Some silver collecting books available at your local library or book store include reprints of flatware catalogs.
A note about Reissued Sterling Patterns: These are not modified items, but rather previously discontinued patterns which have been recently reintroduced. Some of these patterns are still in production. For example, Gorham has reissued many of its most popular patterns such as Adam, Bead, Colfax, Dauphin, Lily, Old Orange Blossom, Roanoke, Versailles, Mythologique and others. These reissued patterns are known as Gorham’s Masterpiece Collection. If your interest is in antique silver pieces only, familiarize yourself with what’s old and what’s new. The differences between old and new silver are equivalent to the differences between new and antique furniture, primarily the patina or lack thereof.
We first published this article in 2001, and it still holds true today. However, since that time dozens of additional modified pieces not mentioned above have appeared for sale. A reputable silverware dealer should reveal if the piece is newly-crafted or of original production. Your best bet is to educate yourself about original production pieces.
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