Items can have more than 1 value


People have been asking a lot of questions about silver recently. Today we'll answer one reader's query about the value of her modern sterling flatware set.

Then, we'll help another reader "clean up" her need for information about a doll, made from soap.

Q. As a wedding gift in 1955 I received a Classic Rose pattern Sterling silver flatware service by Reed & Barton. We no longer entertain with big holiday meals, so I want to sell it. Can you give me an estimate of what it might be worth? -- Mary in Kennewick

A. Sterling silver has value as a commodity -- the worth of the raw silver in a piece -- and, sometimes, as an antique or collectible item.

We will tackle the commodity situation first. A piece marked "sterling" is 92.5 percent pure silver. The rest is other metals, mainly copper, used to provide strength.

You can use a formula and figure the value of the actual silver in a piece of sterling. First you need to know the weigh in troy ounces. The average teaspoon, for example, weighs just less than 1 troy ounce.

You multiply the weight by .925 to determine the silver content. Thus, our average teaspoon has a silver content of about nine-tenths of a troy ounce.

If the international "spot price" of silver (this changes hourly) is $30 and we multiply the .9 troy ounces of silver in our teaspoon by the spot price, we get a silver content value of about $27.

All of the results will vary by weight and the current value of silver.

Now that we know approximately what the silver is worth, we can talk to a precious metals dealer or foundry about what we can expect as a price for selling our pieces of sterling to them.

Their offer will be less than the dollar number we arrived at because the dealer or foundry has expenses to cover and needs to make a fair profit.

Generally, you should think in the range of a 30 percent to 40 percent discount from the "spot price" value.

Sterling also can have a collector value. But since the price of pure silver has gone from less than $5 an ounce in 2003 to around $30 an ounce today, a lot of dinnerware formerly viewed as collectible is now being sold for the silver content only.

In an example of the difference, the big speciality firm Replacements Ltd. would pay Mary $15 for a teaspoon from her set. That is the collector value. The raw silver value of the same spoon, after all the calculations and negotiations, would be in the neighborhood of $16, maybe more.

This pattern was added to the Reed & Barton line in 1954 and discontinued in 2005. It was sold in large numbers and was quite popular. Because of that popularity and production, there is a lot available and, thus, the values are not super high from a collector's standpoint.

Recently a set of Classic Rose weighing 32 troy ounces auctioned for $600. Doing the math, that price was only about $15 more than the melt value, without considering the commission the consignor paid to the auction house.

Q. I have had this doll in my collection for a long time. It is made of soap and is 41/2 inches high. I've never seen another like it. Is this unusual and/or valuable? Thanks. -- Mary in Kennewick

A. What you have is a "cross-collectible," something of interest to collectors in more than one field. In this case, the piece will appeal to both doll collectors and people interested in presidential political memorabilia.

That's because this little doll was used in the presidential campaign of William McKinley in 1896.

The doll originally came in a box that reads "My Papa Will Vote For McKinley."

McKinley's winning campaign produced hundreds of pieces that are collectible today; they range from pins to pennants and include this doll.

It was made by the Monarch Soap Company and isn't a rare item. The doll was unusual and many people kept them. Examples are seen each year at auction and for sale in shops, at shows and on the internet.

A fair retail price for a doll in perfect condition, with original box, would be $75 to $100.

-- Terry Maurer, Tri-Cities personal property appraiser, is a member of the Certified Appraisers Guild of America. For possible use in a future column, direct questions on your antiques and collectibles to What's It Worth? by e-mail to

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