Selling silver, silverplate and/or stainless flatware is a great source of income in your Etsy vintage shop. It can be purchased relatively inexpensively, may need some polishing (silver and silver plate) and can be sold for a good profit. Silver is the most valuable of the three, followed by silverplate and then stainless flatware.
Identifying Silver and Silverplate and Stainless Flatware
How do you know if a piece of flatware (also called silverware or cutlery) is silver, silverplate or stainless? The first thing to do is to look at the back of a piece of flatware. It is usually marked with the maker's name and some marking to tell you what it is.
What is silver? Pure silver is 99.9% silver with the other .1% being trace elements of other metals. Silver is usually marked with the brand name (the person or company who made it) and 999. Silver is the most valuable type of flatware.
Sterling silver is a minimum of 925 parts silver to 1000 parts total. Sterling silver is usually marked sterling, sterling silver, 92.5, 925 or 925/1000. If it is marked 935 or 950, it is sterling silver with a higher content per 1000. The higher the silver content, the more valuable the flatware.
Silverplate flatware has a thin layer of silver over various other metals. Silverplate has many marks, but is usually marked Plate or Extra Plate or Deep Silver.
Note: SilverCollection or 925-1000 are good sites to help with identifying silver and silverplate from outside the United States because there is so much more to know about markings and the history of pieces from other countries (especially England).
Some other terms you should know when identifying silver and silverplate:
- Coin silver is the earliest form of silver, but is not pure silver. The value in coin silver is its beauty, its age and how desirable a piece is.
- EPNS is electroplated nickel silver – a thin layer of silver plated on metal, usually a combination of nickel, copper and zinc.
- German silver and Nickel silver contain little to no silver. These pieces are actually composed of nickel, copper and silver and sometimes even tin and lead. This flatware is much less valuable than sterling silver and silverplate. The only reason I would buy German or Nickel silver is if it was an incredibly beautiful pattern. This can be difficult to polish so condition is key to buying German or Nickel silver.
Stainless flatware is stainless steel and contains no silver and is, therefore, the least valuable type of flatware. There are different grades of stainless flatware. Stainless flatware is usually marked with the manufacturer name, Stainless, and the country it was made in. The different grades of stainless are 18/10,18/8 and 18/0. 18/10 is 18% chromium and 10% nickel and is the highest grade of stainless steel. I tend to stay away from stainless because the profit margin is much smaller than silver or silverplate. However, if you are just starting out, stainless is not a bad choice. The cost to purchase vintage stainless is less, but be very particular about the condition as it is difficult to clean or restore.
Experience will teach you how to identify silver, silverplate and stainless so start small with inexpensive sets until you are familiar with identifying it as well as what your buyers are looking for.
Identifying Flatware Patterns
Identifying a flatware pattern is crucial to selling an individual flatware piece or flatware set. Many buyers are looking for beautiful flatware sets, but most want a certain pattern so it's important to identify the pattern. The pattern name is also helpful because you can find out when the pattern was first made. Some buyers want flatware and flatware sets from a certain era – Victorian (1837-1901), Edwardian (1900-1914), Art Deco (1920s-1930s), Mid Century (1933-1965), etc.
If you are selling individual pieces or a set of multiples (for example, a set of 3 salad forks), you definitely are selling to someone who wants to add to or replace pieces in their current flatware set. This is another reason why it's important to know the pattern.
I have some favorite sites that allow you to identify particular flatware patterns by their brand name. My favorite sites are:
Sterling Flatware Fashions – This is my favorite site because it has almost every pattern I've ever looked up. The only ones who don't appear here are rare patterns.
Replacements – This is a great place to find the value of flatware pieces after you identify the brand name and pattern (using Sterling Flatware Fashions above). The prices on this site are more than you may be able to charge on Etsy. We usually ask 50% – 75% of the Replacement cost.
Where to Buy Flatware and Flatware Sets
Now that you've identified which type or types of flatware you want to sell, where do you find these flatware sets? My favorite sources for finding flatware sets are garage sales, community sales, thrift stores, auctions and eBay. Basically, anywhere you can find them. If you have a relative who is downsizing, ask if they have any vintage items they are willing to part with.
Garage sales are great because sellers want to get rid of their items quickly and in a short amount of time. They are willing to negotiate. If you find a garage sale in a retirement community, you may get very lucky. I've purchased flatware, flatware sets, tea sets, etc. at garage sales for a great price. If you love garage sales, this is a great way to find products, but it is more time consuming than other options. If you don't like garage sales, this may not be the route for you.
Community sales are great because the items being sold usually benefit charity so they are motivated to sell and are not emotionally attached to the items. They have been donated by generous folks who are intrested in helping out this charity. It's a win-win for them and for you.
Thrift stores have amazing finds and usually very good prices. Thrift stores are becoming more savvy so be sure you do not over pay. Also, be sure to check the condition because sometimes people donate items that are not in the best condition so look at more than just the price tag.
Ebay? Yes, we've bought items on eBay, polished or restored them, and then sold them on Etsy for a profit. Some sellers want a quick sale so they are willing to offer products at below market costs.
Finding vintage flatware and flatware sets can be time consuming, but can be very rewarding if you do your research and don't overpay.
What is the profit for selling flatware?
The highest profit, but also the highest cost to purchase, is silver or sterling silver sets. You should be prepared to pay $1000 or more for a sterling flatware set. However, you can also sell it for a minimum profit of 50%. For example, if you sell a set for $1,500 that you paid $1,000 for you've made a profit of $500 (a 50% profit). Higher risk can meaner higher reward. Of course, it can also mean higher loss if you overpay for a silver flatware set. If you're new to selling flatware, I wouldn't start with a silver set. Even today, with lots of experience, I steer clear of silver sets unless I can get them for a really good price (not easy to find).
I find that silverplate has a good profit margin and is more affordable. My own experience is that there is a good market for silverplate sets. We sell about 30-40 flatware sets per year with an average profit of 207% (this is for flatware sets and individual flatware pieces). That means if you sell a flatware set for $300, your profit is somewhere around $100. Profit is the sales price – purchase cost (what you paid for the item) – fees (selling fees on Etsy – shipping costs (if you offer free shipping), taxes (don't forget about taxes – the IRS never does). Keep in mind your time involved in finding the set, polishing or cleaning the set, packing up the set for sale, etc.
Stainless flatware has the lowest up front cost, but also has a smaller profit. This is a good choice if you are just starting out on your Etsy journey. The key is to do your research (make sure this is a pattern people want), buy low and sell at a competitive price with a good profit. You can check out my blog post on How to Price Your Items for Maximum Profit.
I hope this helps you to think about another vintage product you can offer in your Etsy shop that has a good profit margin. Just remember to start out small, do your research and check for condition.