Thursday, May 22, 2014

Collecting: Buy Silver(ware)

Although we think both gold and silver will trade lower over the summer, even a 30% decline in the price of silver bullion won't make that big a difference in the price of tea pots.
From Barron's Penta ($5 mil. net worth) blog:

Time To Snap Up Silver Ware
Sterling is out of fashion, making it an ideal time to buy gorgeous tureens, tankards, and tea sets.
Time to collect silver? "You can compare what's going on in silver to many other areas of collecting," says Tony Korner, publisher of the contemporary-art magazine Artforum. Like old-master paintings and 18th century English and French furniture, silver is deeply out of favor. "These areas used to sell at such a premium, but now they are heavily discounted, unless an item is attributed to a known designer or artist, in fabulous condition, and from a good provenance. There are few collectors nowadays," he says.

Silver has, in short, become the collector's equivalent of the out-of-favor stocks favored by value investors. That in turn poses another question: Is the white metal a good buy or a value trap? 

George Sape is an attorney who is both one of the nation's foremost wine collectors ("The Call of Collecting," Feb. 3, 2014) and a collector of prerevolution Russian silver and Georgian silver from 1729 to 1814. Sape tells us that "short-term tastes often change, shifting with the times and influences. Silver is subject to that. There may also be a de-emphasis on silver as an art form because other mediums" -- from contemporary art to midcentury architecture -- are suddenly so much more in vogue. "But long-term trends suggest that silver will always return because of its intrinsic value and the superb craftsmanship it represents."

Sape's remark strongly suggests to us that weak demand for certain types of silver translates into buying opportunities for those who are patient and have a good eye. But, as always, caution is needed. From 18th century English silver to 19th century U.S. silver, a resurgence is already taking place in some narrowly defined sterling buckets. But that's good news, too, for it offers evidence that popular tastes might also return one day to, say, the ornate and once popular 19th century Gorham soup tureens and tea services that no longer can find a home.

IT'S A GREAT TIME TO BUY SILVER from the Queen Anne and Georgian eras, claims Jennifer Pitman, head of the silver department at Christie's in New York. "Earlier generations were interested in early Georgian or Queen Anne silver, which are plain and beautifully crafted," she says. "But those generations have stopped collecting," and while a generational shift has occurred, it does not mean that Queen Anne and Georgian silver is suddenly any less significant or exquisite. "Collecting patterns are cyclical," adds Pitman.

Take the Georgian soup tureen that will be offered in the coming Important Silver sale at Christie's in New York on May 21. The tureen evokes a neoclassical style "and is not only elegant and practical, but its emphasis on geometric form and sparseness of ornament suit both contemporary and traditional interiors," says Pitman.
We'll take that remark a step further. Interiors that are perfectly one thing or another quickly grow weary to the eye. Nothing is more alive, more elegant, than a 200-year-old wooden New England kitchen table next to a stark, steel contemporary countertop by Germany's Bulthaup. It is the tension between the old and the new, the wood and the metal, the polished and the rough, that brings visual life thrillingly into a home.

So there is nothing wrong with parking a simple silver Georgian tureen on a sideboard under a color-splattered canvas by Jean-Michel Basquiat. Both works are exquisite, with the tureen having the additional advantage of being a bargain. The Georgian soup tureen coming up for sale at Christie's in May was made in 1782 and bears the mark of John Wakelin and William Taylor, London. Its presale estimate is a mouth-watering $5,000 to $8,000....MORE

Tiffany & Co. Chrysanthemum candelabra
Photo: Richard Pierce