Q: We received these Chinese silver spoons from an antique dealer as a wedding gift years ago. We were told that they are 19th century, from the Shen Xing dynasty. What is their value today?
A: The era mentioned was part of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). We’re thinking that they come from the tail end of that time.
Images sent show a set of five teaspoons. Their bowls are identically decorated, but the handles differ. Motifs incised on the bowls are traditional Chinese plants: bamboo, plantains and peaches. The silver is tarnished, and one handle has greened. Handle backs have a maker’s mark.
The story on such spoons is that each handle tells a tale. Willow-patterned tableware has the same element of storytelling through image.
Andrew Lick, a specialist in the Asian Art Department at Bonhams San Francisco, confirmed that the reader’s spoons are indeed Chinese silver. Silver made for export in China then was of exceptional purity, sometimes exceeding our mark of 925 silver content for sterling.
One, with a boat and fisherman molded onto a handle, interested him because of the repeated almost fish roe-like pattern behind the scene. Smart collectors know that such subtleties matter to those in the know on Oriental arts.
The spoons, he added, were most likely made for export around 1890-1940. That dating makes them late 19th to early 20th century pieces.
To assess value, Lick suggests two methods. One is to weigh them to determine the total weight in silver. Another is to research sales of similar spoons at auction. Note that the first measures intrinsic value (troy ounces) while the second can reflect aesthetic appeal.
Lick’s choice is allowing the market to determine value. The set may have more value on the open market than as simple scrap. Remember how he perked up at detail on a handle?
The hope is that a potential buyer will do the same. This is a good time to sell at auction, as the booming Chinese economy has created a new class of buyers with deep pockets.
Pegging the reader’s spoons as “a nice set,” Lick told us he has sold similar examples at auction. Insurance or replacement value is around $400.
Retail would probably be less. A matched set of seven Chinese export teaspoons sold recently on eBay for $213.50.