A buffet of 18th- and 19th-century silver and gold boxes, candlesticks, flatware and salvers are increasingly heading to the furnace as prices for precious metals have soared in 2011.
Collectors and attic raiders are sending their antique pieces to scrap metal dealers instead of the antiques market in order to make a quick sale. Auction houses are now monitoring scrap prices to ensure they don't sell pieces below melt value. Speculators are swooping in for big pieces.
The price of silver has doubled in the past year, with a record high of $49.79 an ounce on April 25. Gold has been gaining, with some experts saying $1,730 an ounce is approaching. Others warn of a bubble.
Uncertainty in financial systems and industrial demand are two reasons for the metals market surge. About 40 to 45 percent of scrap is bought by the solar and electronics industries.
Lewis Smith, managing director of the London-based dealers Koopman Rare Art, told Bloomberg. “As the price goes up, there are going to be more mistakes” with fine examples of Georgian and Victorian silver increasingly in danger of being melted down.
“So much is being melted that even the pedestrian pieces will become rare,” notes Neil Franklin, partner in the London-based antique silver dealers N. & I. Franklin.