As a collector, one of the first and important decisions is wherever to focus your efforts to collecting silver plate or sterling silver antiques.
Historically, collecting and using sterling silverware and flatware was a symbol of wealth and social status in England, America and Europe. However, with the advent of electroplating technology during 1800s, by inventors such as: Luigi Brugnatelli (1805); John Wright (1845); The Elkingtons (1840), the use and collection of silverware became more accessible to the broader community. As a result of electroplating technology, silver plate silverware and flatware is a more common find for the antique collector in contemporary times.
When browsing or researching antique silver plate or sterling tableware, look for a 'hallmark' that will provide information about the manufacture or designer and the origin location. This is important as a way of authentication as a genuine silver plate or sterling silver item.
Patterning is another feature to consider when purchasing and collecting silverware. The range and variety of patterns and styles is vast. When collecting, it is not necessary to have a complete set of silverware that all display the same pattern design. The key is to find items that display patterns that can match other patterns or complement each other. This means you can mix n match various patterns and styles to make a complete set of silver plate or sterling silver tableware. If you are competent or patient enough to find and collect a complete set all displaying the same pattern, then fine. But if not, then adopt the mix n match idea.
The peak time for silverware manufacturing and consumer usage was during the Victorian period (1870-1920). It was not uncommon during that era for manufactures to produce 100 different items of the same pattern. This trend was in response to consumer demands of the day. Middle and upper class families often entertained with dinners consisting of eight course meals or more.
Historically, 1870 to about 1920 was the peak period for traditional silverware usage. Many makers of silverware would make up to 100 different pieces of a particular pattern. For example, dinners would typically begin with soup, followed buy salads, then fruit. After a pause, more substantial dishes would follow including fish and various meats. Deserts, cheeses and fruits would finish the dinning affair. So with this kind of dining context, it can be expected that a variety of specialized silverware and flatware was necessary. As a result of this social / cultural activity of the Victorian period, there is a wider scope for the contemporary silver plate and sterling silver antique collector and investor.
Antique silver plate and sterling silverware have a couple of unique properties. Aesthetically, collectors enjoy the beauty and durability of silver plate and sterling silver tableware. As an appreciating asset, investors are rewarded by the 'stored value' especially of antique sterling silver flatware. This kind of 'asset' benefits investors and collectors for that matter against inflation and currency devaluation.
So, while you are a casual collector of serious investor in the antique silver plate and sterling silver niche, there are several benefits and rewards that will be enjoyed including aesthetics, utility and financial divisions.