| 8.8°C Dublin

Don't sell silver for scrap, it could be worth thousands

CRAFTED Irish silver, which has a reputation for quality around the world, is being sold for scrap and melted down because owners aren't aware of its antique value.

Ireland's antique dealers have issued a plea to the public to ensure they have silver items properly checked out before selling them on to scrap dealers, following evidence that valuable Irish heritage pieces worth thousands are regularly being melted down in the rush to cash in on the highest silver bullion prices since the 1970s.

Silver has more than doubled its value in two years to levels not seen since Texas oil billionaire Bunker Hunt attempted to corner the world silver market in 1979.

However, because values have been moving down from a 2011 high of $49 per troy oz (today it's at $33) there has been a rush to sell up. Silver is also one of the first items to be sold in hard times.

Dublin silverware expert Jimmy Weldon said: "We had one guy bring in a photograph of some flatware (cutlery) that he'd sold for scrap. They turned out to be Georgian and worth in the order of €3,000. Old spoons and tankards in particular should be checked because a Limerick spoon worth €40 or €50 for scrap could fetch €2,000 to €3,000 at auction," said Mr Weldon.

"We were brought a tiny salt cellar to be appraised which would have had a scrap value of €60 but turned out to have been worth €3,000 as a collector's piece. It was very plain and black and no more than an inch-and-a-half high but was in fact a very special and rare piece made in 1725."

While bullion silver prices are on a high, demand abroad for antique Irish silverware as collectibles has also shot up. One Georgian beer tankard from Cork, which went for sale in the USA recently, sold for $31,000 (€23,500) after being guided at $3,000 (€2,300).

Items which dealers believe are being lost in auctions include heavy antique Irish trays, which attract the most attention because of their weight. Mr Weldon said unscrupulous scrap dealers were turning up at auctions all over the country bringing their own scales. "There's a surprising amount of items out there still in attics, basements and drawers," he said.

Joy Danker of Danker Antiques added: "Irish silverware is the finest and most sought after in the world because it is so rare -- there is one piece of Irish for every five pieces of English -- and because of the outstanding level of craftsmanship from those who produced it in Cork, Limerick, Kinsale and Galway. The fact that we're losing any of it is shocking."

President of the Irish Antique Dealers' Association George Stacpoole added: "This problem occurs when bullion value begins to challenge antique value. We would urge the public never to sell anything made of sterling silver without first getting it properly appraised by a member of the Antique Dealers Association."

Daily Digest Newsletter

Get ahead of the day with the morning headlines at 7.30am and Fionnán Sheahan's exclusive take on the day's news every afternoon, with our free daily newsletter.

This field is required

Most Watched