|Did you know that antique silver trays were not made prior to the late 18th
Some collectors may not be aware that there is a difference
between antique silver trays with handles and those without. The latter are actually called salvers instead of trays, and salvers that are less than
six inches in diameter are sometimes called waiters. Antique silver trays were not made prior to the late eighteenth century, and
it is rare to find any made prior to the Chippendale period.
The majority of antique silver salvers perished in the English Civil war,
and very few examples exist from the time before Queen Anne reigned.
There are very few rectangular salvers. Most antique square salvers, and a very few rare octagonal salvers are most likely dated from 1720 to
1740 A.D. Silver oval salvers were introduced in the late eighteenth century and are highly sought after and highly collectible.
Antique silver trays, on the other hand, are most often larger than salvers
and usually rectangular or oval. Antique silver tray collectors will rarely find examples of early trays from the 1750's. These trays are very
expensive and housed mostly in museums or private collections. In general, extremely large silver trays, although expected to bring the
highest prices due to the amount of silver used to make them, are actually less valuable and less sought after due to the awkwardness of
the size and difficulty of use. Of course, the more elaborate the antique silver tray, generally the more valuable it will be. The more expensive
silver trays of the late eighteenth century have shell decorated borders, or tied reed or beaded borders.
Many English silver salvers were imported by Americans and
silversmiths in America most often copied the designs and patterns of the English. A common and popular design is found in antique silver
trays from the pre-Revolutionary eara which have a leafy shell design with gadrooned border and elaborate handles. Often many of these trays
have inscriptions or engravings with a coat of arms which is invaluable to the collector in tracing the hstory and origin of a particular tray.
Pure silver is too soft for practical purposes, so other metals, such as copper, are usually alloyed with the silver to make the metal sufficiently
hard. Antique silver trays forged or hammered from a single piece of metal are, of course, more valuable than silver trays which have been
made from several pieces of silver soldered together. Often silver handles, grills, filigree, and other decorative techniques are soldered to
the silver tray.
Silversmiths also use techniques of chasing and burnishing to create an artistically decorative silver tray. Chasing involves punching the surface
being worked with patterns, scrolls and lines into the metal. The technique of engraving on silver trays is similar to chasing, but instead of
a punch, a sharp tool is used by the silversmith to scrive into the metal surface. The engraved lines are often filled with a composition of
sulphur, silver and copper, referred to as niello, that enhances the engraved lines. With the introduction of machine engraving in the late
eighteenth century, greater accuracy and precision was possible, but high quality, hand engraved antique silver trays will still demand a higher
Antique silver trays have long been used to denote status and wealth of the owner, and exemplify high society and royalty, and continue to be
WHAT TO LOOK FOR ..........
- Collectors should be aware of fake or "updated" trays being sold as antique silver trays. Sometimes the old border is removed and a new
border is applied that is a more currently accepted or contemporary design. By researching the hallmark on the tray, the collector can
deteremine the styles and designs prevalent during that time. Border styles should conform to the date of the hallmark produced during that
- Scratches in antique silver trays are actually preferable to those that
have been polished out.
- Look for signs of soldering or splitting around the borders. If there are
dips or thinning in the surface, this could be evidence that original engraving of crests or arms were removed and replaced with later
- All collectible quality antique silver trays should have full hallmarks present. Handles and feet are usually not marked, but borders that were
clamped on should bear the maker's mark, and all English silver trays should have the lion passant.