“What’s in Your Collection?”: Collecting Antique Silver

north carolina interior designer kathryn greeley shows how to collect antique silver from irelandCollecting Irish silver is a fascinating and intriguing endeavor! It can give one a wonderful insight into Irish social life through the ages.  But I must warn you identifying hallmarks on a piece can seem like a daunting effort for even the most seasoned collector!  So first of all, a short lesson…

Since 1637, there has been a legal requirement to hallmark all silver sold in Ireland. King Charles intended this to be a form of consumer protection.  The primary aim of a hallmark is a guarantee that the piece is  sterling silver quality ,  92.5 % pure silver.  The hallmarks also allow one to tell by whom the piece was made, and the city in which the piece was assayed (qualitative analysis of a metal to determine its components).

The first hallmark to identify is the harp crowned:

north carolina interior designer kathryn greeley presents how to start an antique silver collection

This tells you that the piece assayed in Dublin, and has been struck on all Irish silver since 1637.

The second mark to look for is Hibernia, which is a duty mark, introduced in 1730.  This mark is still in use today, and will always be present.

north carolina interior designer kathryn greeley presents how to start an antique silver collection

Identifying hallmarks is much too long a subject to cover on this post, however, if you have a piece of silver you would like to identify, I would recommend a book on silver hallmarks. I find it great fun to establish the history of a piece of silver, yet these dish rings can often be a challenge.

Irish Sterling Silver Dish Rings are one of the most sought after Irish silver forms and I am most fortunate to own two.

north carolina interior designer kathryn greeley presents how to start an antique silver collection

north carolina interior designer kathryn greeley presents how to start an antique silver collection

Mine both have very romantic pastoral designs.  Mistakenly called “potato rings” by some, these dish rings were used like trivets to protect a table from a hot dish or bowl.  The piercing on most of these pieces is not only beautiful, but serves the functional purpose of dispersing heat.  During the 18th century, the finest homes in Ireland might use many dish rings at once creating a grand effect while dining.

north carolina interior designer kathryn greeley presents how to start an antique silver collection

north carolina interior designer kathryn greeley presents how to start an antique silver collection

These images show hallmarks that are always on a dish ring indicating it’s origins.

north carolina interior designer kathryn greeley presents how to start an antique silver collection

north carolina interior designer kathryn greeley presents how to start an antique silver collection

The details on these dish rings are incredible and have a rather wide variety of decorative motifs. So of the later pieces were fitted with cobalt or cranberry glass liners , but these additions were only for decorative purposes.

north carolina interior designer kathryn greeley presents how to start an antique silver collection

north carolina interior designer kathryn greeley presents how to start an antique silver collection

north carolina interior designer kathryn greeley presents how to start an antique silver collection

These delightful Irish dish rings are a favorite for me and I often add some type of liner and use them as containers for floral arrangements as in the photos above.  A collection of these sterling pieces would be very interesting and yes…a bit of an investment! More about antique Irish silver later…

North carolina interior designer kathryn greeley uses irish antique silver

From my book, The Collected Tabletop

Enjoy,

north carolina interior designer kathryn greeley presents how to start an antique silver collection

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6 Responses to “What’s in Your Collection?”: Collecting Antique Silver

  1. Kim Gould says:

    Thank you, Kathryn, for a lovely post. I adore silver and have collected since college. It is so distressing when prices go up because we lose so many irreplaceable items to melt.
    I have found a FABULOUS silver polish so I have been polishing away and enjoying many items I didn’t even notice anymore. I have heard that the success of “Downton Abbey”, has fueled an interest in silver and tablescapes. Yay! Have a wonderful day, thank you for your work.

  2. Kathryn says:

    Thanks Kim! It is so sad that wonderful silver is melted, but that is so much a sign of our economy ! Don’t you just love Downton Abbey!! What is the brand of your newly found silver polish ?

  3. Sarah says:

    Kathryn, I’m very much enjoying my copy of your book. I’m a collector of many things, but don’t have any Irish silver. These pieces are lovely. The thought of dealers melting down these beautiful works of art makes my heart ache. Thank you for this lovely post and for the wonderful inspiration you provide your readers. I did a shout out to you and your book and your Top Ten China Patterns on my blog today. I shared my Napoleonic memorabilia collection using your suggestion of incorporating one’s collection for a tablescape theme. Thank you! ~ Sarah

  4. Kathryn says:

    Thanks so much Sarah!

  5. Kim Gould says:

    The silver polish is called: Blue Magic. I purchased it from a silver dealer at one of our local antique shows. 🙂

  6. Kathryn says:

    I will check it out! Thanks Kim!

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