Category Archives: Silver

Gold coins & silver coins: What to do with them?

gold-silver-old-coins-13798589Lots of people–especially those who experienced the Great Depression–saved gold coins as a hedge against the uncertainty of banks. If you’ve inherited any gold or silver coins, don’t sell them for meltdown! Take them to a reputable coin dealer—they may be worth more than the gold or silver content. If they have no value to collectors, then you can sell them for melt if you need to. Krugerrands, the most common gold coin for collectors, contain one troy ounce of gold, so their gold value can easily be calculated by multiplying by the current market price of gold as found online or in the newspaper.

If your coins are foreign and you’re not sure of the country of origin, type whatever you see on the coin into your computer’s search engine–that should tell you. Or go to and type the words into the box and let it translate. Once you determine what country your coins came from, you can look online and learn how much silver or gold they contain. 

imagesThere are different types of silver coins: silver bullion coins are pure silver, made for investment purposes. You can figure the worth of those by looking at current market price for silver. There are numismatic silver coins–the sort coin collectors value. Take yours to a reputable coin dealer (better yet, two or three) and see what they tell you, or research them yourself online. There are also the pre-1964 coins that contained silver–quarters, dimes, dollars, and half dollars, shown at right. After that year, almost none of our pocket change included silver any more. These coins are sometimes called “junk silver” but don’t let that name suggest they are junk! They are valuable for their silver content. Lots of people saved these when the country stopped using silver in coins, so it wouldn’t be surprising to find a piggy bank or sack of coins in your inherited Stuff. Most of these American coins contain 90% silver. Kennedy half dollars of 1965-69 contain just 40% silver. Since 1964, only a few special issue collectors coins have had any silver. 

Do not polish or clean your silver coins. Shiny is not better.

How to clean the tarnished silver you’ve inherited

imagesEveryone tells you NOT to clean or polish old, tarnished silver or it will ruin the value of the piece. If your item is a valuable antique, you obviously don’t want to do that. However, on everyday, modern silverplate or sterling, feel free to polish away and use it regularly! Actually, if you use your silver regularly and wash and dry it regularly, it won’t need polishing; it will stay pretty shiny. 

Old items can be cleaned, but for the most part, that should be done only by a professional or you risk damaging the item. Here’s a gentle way to clean silver that won’t harm your piece: Fill a dish with warm water and a few drops of dishwashing liquid. Gently scrub with a soft toothbrush. Dry with a soft cloth so the item doesn’t spot. If that doesn’t work and your item dates from the 19th or 20th century, you can use a commercial cleaner or polishing cloth, available at a jewelry store, but never use the harsh silver dips (often sold in grocery stores or on TV) that will damage your piece. And do not put it in the dishwasher. Do not use baking soda (it’s abrasive). If it is older than that, or you suspect it might be, show it to a person who deals in antique silver and ask for advice. 

mgQeHqraGMTR3uGRB6shh4wAnd store whatever silver you decide to keep in Pacific cloth bags (that dark, velvety fabric) to keep it from becoming tarnished. 

P.S. What are the worst substances that cause tarnish? Sad experience has proven to me that eggs, lemon, mayonnaise, and mustard are all toxic to silver. After my silver touches any of those, I need to polish it right away.

Are those Foreign Coins Worth Anything???

7709884-pile-of-foreign-coins-with-stong-light-cast-coming-in-from-the-upper-right-hand-cornerMany people collected foreign coins out of an interest in a particular country or region. Others who traveled a lot threw all their leftover coins in a box to use later . . . and never did. Many of these are obsolete now. Some have value. Because most coin dealers in America have little experience or knowledge about foreign coins, you are better off searching online to identify and evaluate your coins. Start with for a comprehensive and free website. Also,, but there are fees involved here. Another method, if you can’t figure out the country of origin, is to type any words on the coin into a search engine and see what comes up.

Donate unwanted foreign coins to Change for Good, a UNICEF program begun in 1987 to collect unwanted coins and currency. Tape them to cardboard so they don’t rattle around in the package and mail them to Change for Good, UNICEF, 125 Maiden Lane, New York, NY 10038.

Should you sell those old accessories to a vintage clothing store?

gloves2Vintage shops sell more than clothing. They also carry period accessories such as cuff links, stickpins, hatpins, tie clips, hats, gloves, scarves, coats, shoes, shawls, lace, fans, evening bags, handkerchiefs, furs, and jewelry.

If the jewelry, cuff links, hatpins, and tie clips you want to get rid of is made of gold or silver (there will be marks like 18K, 14K, or 10K on the gold and STER, STERLING, 925, or 900 on the silver, or even PLAT or PT for platinum) and has stones, chances are the stones are genuine. It isn’t common to put cheap, “paste” stones in silver or gold settings. Same with pearls–pearls with 14K gold clasps are probably genuine. These pieces should be taken to a reputable jeweler, preferably two or three, to see what they say. If the metal has no marks, it’s likely the piece is costume jewelry and that is the sort you should take to a vintage clothing shop to sell.

imagesSpeaking of jewelry, one clue in estimating the date of your jewelry is to look at the earrings. Lever-back or screw-back earrings came in around the early years of the 20th century and faded during the forties. The spring clip is a little later, around the thirties and faded in the sixties when pierced ears became fashionable. Not conclusive, but suggestive.

How to Ruin the Value of your Old Stuff

Want to ruin the sales value of the old Stuff you’ve inherited? Of course you don’t. Read on . . . 

Do not polish, paint, or touch up old Stuff you plan to sell.

If something is filthy, wipe it with a damp cloth, but resist the temptation to use any chemicals or cleaning solutions on it. The value of many an antique or collectible has dropped significantly when misguided owners tried to “improve” its looks. Another consideration: tastes change. When my mother-in-law had an antique desk stripped and “antiqued” white (a popular finish in the 70s that involved applying a layer of stain over paint and wiping it off before it was dry), thereby ruining its value forever. Worse yet, the streaky look was “out” within a few years.   

stripping-paint-cabinet-doorDo not touch up the paint on furniture or art work. Do not strip painted furniture, even if the paint is peeling or uneven or an ugly color. Do not refinish old wooden furniture. If you are certain it is worthless or you plan to keep it, feel free to paint or refinish to your heart’s content. 


Do not “beautify” old coins by using a coin dip or ultrasonic treatment.

Do not wash vintage clothing or quilts or linens in the washing machine with hot water or bleach. Too rough, too hot, too harsh. I know whereof I speak: I once washed a dirty old quilt in the washing machine in hot water and bleach . . . it came out like wet kleenex.

Polish old silver with a mild silver polish and wash with soap and warm water. Never use those harsh dips you see advertised on TV that show the happy homemaker dipping her blackened silver into the solution and smiling as it comes out sparkly. 

Do not wash old glass or crystal in the dishwasher. Wash by hand in the sink in hot sudsy water. 

Don’t get scammed by dodgy silver and gold buyers

Silver Coffee_Tea Service     You’ve seen those ads: WE BUY SILVER AND GOLD!!!!!! Wonderful . . . but estimate meltdown value before you take your silver to a place like that. Some are legit. Many are dodgy.  Try to take your unwanted silver to a reputable, local jeweler rather than one of those fly-by-night operations that breezes into town and rent a few hotel rooms for a week and disappears. And the mail-in envelope scheme advertised on TV is the worst!

     How do you estimate the meltdown value? Easy. (Well, not all that easy, but here it is.) First make sure you’re dealing with sterling. If it doesn’t say STERLING or STER on the back, it isn’t sterling.

1) Weigh the sterling silver on an accurate scale like a postal scale. (Don’t weigh knives or candlesticks—knife blades are stainless steel and handles are not solid, so they don’t weigh true and candlesticks are full of cement.)

2) Then convert the number of ounces to troy ounces. Recently the price of silver has hovered around $28/troy oz. There are converters on line you can use, or just multiply the ounces by .9116 to get troy ounces.

3) Multiply that by the current price of silver, which is listed per troy ounce in newspapers and online. Or use $28 if you can’t find anything more current.

4) Then, because sterling is 92.5% silver, not 100%, multiply the result by 92.5%, and you have the approximate meltdown value of your sterling. (For coin silver, use the same process but multiply here by 90%.)

Will you get that much for it at a silver and gold buyer? No way. They have to make a profit too. 70-80% is reasonable, according to silver buyers. It will partly depend on the amount of silver you are selling–if you are selling one bent spoon (as I once did), you’ll get a lesser percentage because it isn’t worth their bother. Let them know you are getting more than one offer. 

Silver Mysteries Solved

Move over Sherlock Holmes, the mysteries of silver are mysterious no longer. Got a piece of American silver? Search the back until you find some marks. 

1. If you see the word STERLING or STER, the item is 92.5% silver. The rest is probably copper or some other metal added for hardness. Save this.

2. If you see the word COIN, it is 90% silver. The word does NOT mean it was made from melted coins. It just means the silver content is the same as that of coins (at least, when coins like quarters and dimes were really made of silver), which was 90%. A little less than sterling, but still quite valuable, with silver selling at about $33/oz. Save this.

3. If you see the letters EPNS, it means there is a thin, thin, thin layer of silver on top of base metal. Those letters stand for ElectroPlate on Nickel Silver. Never mind its name, nickel Silver isn’t silver, it’s an alloy of copper, nickel, and zinc that looks silvery. What little silver there is in that piece was electroplated on top of the nickel silver in a coating so thin, it’s measured in microns, or millionths of a meter. Silverplate can have one micron or twenty or so, and more is better because it won’t rub off as easily, but even if the piece is several microns thick, it isn’t worth the effort of extracting the silver. If you have a piece marked EPNS that is not antique, it has no monetary value, but save it if you can use it. If it’s damaged, toss it in the trash.

The upshot is, if you have silverplate, it has no resale value. (Unless it is old, as in 19th century, in which case the plating is thicker but the real value comes from the piece’s age, not the silver content.) Sterling and coin have resale value, even if dented or squashed, because it can be melted down for its silver.