Howard's Way - Talking Antique Silver With Howard Emmerson Of Class Antiques

Industry Interviews

A very happy 'Blog Post Monday' to you all.

A few months ago I met a very interesting chap, a very knowledgable fellow who has become a trusted antique chum of mine.  Whenever I have an antique related question, whether it be about the trade or an item I've found, I rarely ask anyone else.  A chance meeting on Instagram has blossomed into a beautiful friendship.  Everybody should have someone like this in their lives, so I've decided to share him with you!

So, as always, get that kettle on, grab a hold of your silvery bits and let me introduce you to, the man himself, Mr Howard Emmerson of Class Antiques...! 

And, if you got the 'Howard's Way' reference in the title, you are old!  *wink*


Image:  Howard Emmerson - Instagram @howard.emmersonclassantiques 


Q.  What made you start collecting 18th and 19th century silver?



In a word, craftsmanship.  The quality of, particularly, 18th century silversmiths, is phenomenal.  When you find a piece with exceptional work from the 1700's, consider the conditions, tools and lifestyle that person had in that period.  No electricity, working silver in just daylight or candlelight and producing some of the finest silverware in the world.  It constantly astounds me.  Add to this the clear pride and commitment that was worked into a piece, it's little wonder why my interest was peaked in this subject.  The Georgian period has held me in a trance ever since and I'm always on the hunt for the next spectacular piece.


 Image:  Howard Emmerson - Instagram @howard.emmersonclassantiques


Q.  How did you get into the antiques trade?



Initially, it happened just by chance.  I've always had a passion for history and I just love learning.

I was laid up following a medical procedure just over 12 years ago, being immobile and prone, books and the internet were my escape route.  It wasn't long before my 'Georgianista' tendencies were awoken, leading me into the world of antiquing.

At this point, my thirst for knowledge was insatiable and within 12 months, I knew this was the path for me.  I don't see my job as work.  What a fantastic feeling it is to get up every morning and think, "Okay, where am I going to head to today...moreover, what will I discover?" 


Image:  Howard Emmerson - Instagram @howard.emmersonclassantiques


Q.  What advice would you give to someone looking to start a silver collection?



My obvious answer should be "come and see me!"  However, less of the shameless self-promotion.

Firstly, buy a pocket copy of a hallmark guide.  I would recommend Jacksons Hallmarks 'Pocket Edition'.  This has been my 'Silver Bible' for many years.  This is vital for understanding the basics of hallmarks.

Secondly, buy a jeweller's loupe (a handheld miniature magnifier).  This will help you see the sometimes minute hallmarks.

Finally, buy something you love and by this, I mean visit an antiques fair, antique shop or antique centre.  Look in the cabinets or displays, talk to the dealers, ask questions and handle the item.  You'll know immediately whether the dealer has the passion and knowledge about his/her pieces.

Try and buy from someone who's done their research.  They should have detailed descriptions on the price ticket, where the item was assayed, what year it was made etc...  Not to say that pieces that aren't ticketed are unscrupulous, but I know where I'd rather spend my hard earned cash!

You don't have to spend hundreds of pounds, either.  An antique silver vesta case (matchstick holder) can be bought for as little as £30, so you don't need bottomless pockets when you get the silver collecting bug.


Image:  Howard Emmerson - Instagram @howard.emmersonclassantiques


Q.  Is there a particular area of the silver market that you'd recommend people start with?



I thought long and hard about this question because it's all about personal preference.  However, if you are new to the world of collecting antique silver, I would suggest starting with UK silver.  The UK has a history of hallmarking dating back to the 1300's.  This has been scrutinised over the years by the Assay Offices, who check the quality of the silver and stamp (hallmark) it to assure the buyer it is what it states it is (UK is sterling 925, so, 925 parts silver per 1000).  The world 'Hallmark' simply derives from the 'Hall' in the town where the silver was 'Marked'.

So, you can pretty much rest assured that what you are buying is correct.  Once you've got a grip of these marks, you'll find your own niche market naturally.  Certain pieces will jump out of a cabinet at you and you won't be able to resist me!  Then you're on the road to silver collecting, whether it's a planished/hammered piece from the Arts & Crafts period (1880-1920) or Georgian silver (1714-1830).  I'm sure you'll enjoy the journey.


Image:  Howard Emmerson - Instagram @howard.emmersonclassantiques


Q.  Is the silver market an affordable one?



My advice would always be to set a budget.  It's too easy to be drawn in by all the treasures you'll see at an antiques fair.  But give yourself a contingency fund as well.  Just because an item is just £20 over your budget, do you really want to miss out on it?  You may never see another one again.

Furthermore, always buy the best that you can afford.  At the end of the day, it's not only something you'll enjoy the company of everyday, but it's an investment as well.  And, don't forget to haggle.  With most dealers, the ticket price is negotiable, but don't be too cheeky, we have to make a living and a profit too.

I like to provide something for all pockets.  Just because I have an item in one cabinet at £2,500, doesn't mean that the next cabinet will be the same.  I have items available from £50 upwards. 


Image:  Howard Emmerson - Instagram @howard.emmersonclassantiques


Q.  If you had to choose only one, who would your favourite Silversmith be?



I'm afraid that's a little like asking a parent to choose their favourite child, it's virtually impossible, but I will endeavour to answer.

I'd have to opt on a group os silversmiths in particular.  French Protestants 'Huguenots' (hue-gen-ohs), literally translated from Flemmish, meaning 'House of Fellows', are renowned throughout history as producers of some of the finest pieces of silver known to exist.  The 'Huguenots' were heavily persecuted by the Catholic Church in France from the 16th century, through to the early 18th century, and many of these master silversmiths dispersed across Europe and North America.

Paul de Lamerie was one of these refugees.  He arrived in London in 1702 with his parents (his Father already an accomplished Silversmith).  He trained under his Father and was subsequently apprenticed by the 'Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths'.  By 1717, his skills were so admired that he became known as 'The Kings Silversmith'.  Many of his pieces are in the V&A museum today.  If you can't get there, check them out online, you'll see the astonishing craftsmanship and why he is in my top ten of Silversmiths.


Image:  Howard Emmerson - Instagram @howard.emmersonclassantiques


Q.  What is your favourite ever silver find?



I've been fortunate to have had some amazing finds over the years, from a George II (1733) wine ewer in a tiny antique shop in North Wales that had been found in a country house attic only the week before, to an Edwardian silver baby rattle that had a fully articulated monkey on a pole, which, if you pushed it up, it rang a bell.  Wonderful!

However, I think my favourite and most unusual piece was found at an antique fair in Wetherby, Yorkshire, where I was standing.  An elderly gentleman arrived at my pitch, pulled out a small handkerchief from his jacket pocket and handed it across to me, saying "I don't suppose you want to buy a silver cigarette case?"  I have to admit, my heart sank a little as cigarette cases are not exactly 'en vogue'.  But I took a look anyway and, wow, I'm glad I did! 

The case was indeed solid silver and had a textured frontage, almost like tree bark, but there was an extra sparkle to it.  As I held it up to the light a face appeared in the tree bark.  Its eyes, nostrils, mouth and ears were!!  10 of them!  On top of this it had Russian silver pre-revolutionary hallmarks.  Very scarce.  This piece had all of a sudden gone from 'zero to hero'.  The elderly gentleman smiled at me with a knowing look in his eye, "it's a good 'un, isn't it?"  That was it, he had me hook, line and sinker.

We agreed a price on the piece, which I was probably a little too generous with, but I had to own it.  Besides, under-bidding someone can not only be offensive, but there's a thing I refer to as 'Antiques Karma'.  At some point, it will come back and bite you on the bum if you try and turn someone over!  The item sold a few weeks later, unsurprisingly, it was stunning.  It's a piece that I was custodian of for a brief period...but will remember forever.


Image:  Howard Emmerson - Instagram @howard.emmersonclassantiques


Well, that's it for this week folks.  I hope you've enjoyed this week's instalment.  Howard is a lovely guy and very knowledgable about the trade.  So, if you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find him, maybe you can contact the A-team...I mean, Howard...!   You can see some of the pieces Howard sells over at his Instagram page - @howard.emmersonclassantiques .  Go give him a follow.

As always, let me know what you think in the comments section below, it's always lovely to hear from you.  And, remember, if you enjoy my posts, please do show your support by subscribing to my Blog, which you can do HERE or via the 'Home' page.  And, if you're into antiques, then you might also enjoy my new Source Vintage YouTube channel, which you can find HERE.  Head on over and subscribe to that too for your fortnightly dose of finds, fairs, stories and reviews.

Until next week, stay safe, keep buying those antiques and keep spreading that Source Vintage love!



Owner Source Vintage

Shop from Source Vintage here

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  • Ethan Rollerson on

    why have do many turned their noses up at southern silver? Think about war, hurricanes, etc. These pieces are scars and many made by Hugenots.

  • Jan on

    Loved your blog interview with Howard Emerson. Interesting and informative. Thanks!

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