For a while I had heard of people finding large quantities of sterling silver at yard sales and thrift stores, but I was highly skeptical. “Why would someone donate silver? It doesn’t make sense” I thought to myself.
A few months ago I watched a video of a guy saying he had found a silver tray worth over $1000 at Goodwill! I figured that I had nothing to lose to do some research on silver since I was already going to thirt stores to find clothing. This summer I bought one of these cheap jeweler microscopes and started looking at the different markings online. There are a thousands of different markings so I quickly got bored.
Previous to this time I had only sold one sterling silver small bowl that my family found at my grandmother’s house after she died. It weighed only a couple of ounces, but was from the early 1900’s with nice designs on it, so it sold for around $25.
Since I run my ebay business out of my bedroom silver and other precious metals are a perfect thing for me to sell since their lightweight, small, profitable and easy to ship. I’ve started to look for sterling first because it’s usually the most obviously marked expensive metal without many fakes.
Another good thing about selling sterling (and silver) is that as it ages it gets darker from patina (oxidation) so it doesn’t look shiny and expensive when people find pieces in their attics. A lot antique sterling pieces end up being donated because they don’t look like stereotypical shiny silver.
I started looking for sterling about months ago and have 3 sterling pieces so far:
The shards of sterling in the first picture are from a small knife handle that was attached to a cheap blade, and filled with a concrete like substance so I broke off the cheap blade and my father and I pulled the sterling coating off with some pliers.
The second knife is attached to a long, high quality stainless steel blade so I’m not scrapping the sterling handle I’m selling it as the knife.
I found the third piece at an estate sale this weekend: it’s a 100 year old sterling silver hairbrush that has beautiful floral/ leaf like designs going up and down the handle giving it a very feminine and beautiful look (wow I just wrote the description of my sales page unknowingly).
My roommate didn’t know what an estate sale was when I was telling her this story, so to clarify first: an estate sale is like a yard sale, but usually involves the whole house. People have estate sales after the death of a relative, or prior to a move to get the most amount of stuff out to the house as fast as possible. A lot of the estate sales that I go to seem like old couples who lived there recently died, so the relatives are making some money before donating the rest of the belongi. Some people might think that going to estate sales sounds sad like a funeral, but I see them as fun and potentially profitable.
I drove past an estate sale this weekend, so I parked my car and walked up to the house. At first I thought it was only a yard sales, but then the husband said “We have things all in the house too.” I was excited after I heard this so I quickly walked into the house. I found a old instant print camera and an ugly vintage bathing suit:
There were a dozen or more silver looking trays in the kitchen so I looked for sterling markings. Sterling is usually marked with a 925 marking (meaning 92.5% silver which is sterling silver, as opposed to pure silver) or an etching of Sterling (which you’ll see in a second).
All of the trays were silver plated, and not real silver, so I kept my search through the house for profitable things. In the bedroom I found this toy toilet from the 90’s that actually flushes and sells for like $25 on ebay. I think this toilet is hilarious. I also found a sweater, a Keurig part (which sell well), a battery and two blank cassette tapes.
On my way back through the house I looked on a different table and spotted the hairbrush. I reached out from it and when I felt it I was sure that I had found silver. Sterling silver is a very light metal so most of the pieces are hollow. This brush looked old and was light in my hand. I turned it over and then saw this marking:
Happily I put the hairbrush in a paper bag that had the rest of my findings and I went outside. The woman looked into the bag and saw the toy toilet that I had found in the house:
She then asked “how does $3 for everything sound?”
I thought it sounded great, but the husband looked annoyed at the low offer, and I knew about the sterling hairbrush so I ended up giving her $10 for a whole bag of stuff.
A few months ago I was convinced that finding sterling silver at secondhand shops and at yard sales was too good to be true. But I’ve since found 3 pieces and determined to find many more.
Keep these 3 things in mind:
- be skeptical. 99% of the pieces you find will be silver-plated and not real silver.
- You can feel quality. Sterling feels sturdy, yet very light. It gets darker as it ages and will have a marking of some sort on the piece.
- Keep checking silverware, trays, salt shakers, and haircboms and more. Eventually you’ll stumble across silver.