QUESTION: What is the value of our silver service? It came from an estate sale in New York City. You can see that the service came from Vietnam. We think it’s heavy silver plate, not sterling. How can we sell it?
ANSWER: The set seen in images features two identical lidded teapots (one for coffee or hot water) with bamboo-shaped spouts and handles. There’s also a double-handled covered sugar bowl and a creamer, each with bamboo-style handles. All four pieces feature elaborate etched and repoussé Oriental scenes. Repoussé is a technique where a design is worked from the back so that details stand out in relief.
Six porcelain cups minus handles are decorated with Oriental dragons. Each fits into a silver cup frame that has a dragon handle. The frames and their saucers are fancy pierced silver. Six decorated teaspoons and sugar tongs accompany the set.
The set is not silver plate. A bottom stamp reads Vietnam and 90. Also known as 900 silver, the number refers to silver content. In contrast, our standard for sterling is 925 parts silver.
The set is heavy because it’s what we call coin silver, an alloy of 90 percent silver and 10 percent copper.
This is an elegant, aesthetically pleasing set. Silver content is high, and decades ago it might have been relegated to the smelter because of that. But with the rise of China, vintage Chinese silver, another high-content metal, has seen a new wave of interest. Vietnamese silver, especially in a set as attractive as this, will appeal to buyers.
That said, know that there are no known standards for Vietnamese silver content. Dating the set will also be difficult. Happily, it stands on its own as a decorative piece.
Since selling is the goal, I suggest shopping the set to auction houses known for selling better decorative goods. The result depends on how and where it is sold, and you need to find the best place to sell.
Auction experts can tell you what they think the set will bring. There’s no need to stay local; you need to find a house with a solid track record in decorative arts. Get several opinions and then decide.