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updated: 5/13/2013 12:08 PM

A Taft connection for this tea set?

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  • This service is solid silver, not plated, but is it sterling?

    This service is solid silver, not plated, but is it sterling?
    SHNS photo courtesy Joe Rosson and Helaine Fendelm

By Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson

Q. I would like for you to tell me about this sterling-silver coffee-and-tea set. I am a retired jeweler who carried most American silver manufacturers -- such as Kirk, Gorham and International -- in my shop. I do not recognize the hallmark stamped on this set. All I could find was "800." I received this from my sister's estate. She had gotten it from my mother, who had purchased it from the Taft estate in Cincinnati. What is its history and value?

A. This is indeed a beautiful set, with its hot-water kettle, two pots, a covered sugar bowl, a cream pitcher and a tray. However, it is not quite what it seems -- at least, not to the letter writer.

First, we want to deal with the statement that this set was purchased from "the Taft estate in Cincinnati." We assume this is intended to be a reference to the estate of William Howard Taft, the former president and chief justice. But we could be wrong.

Taft was born in Cincinnati in 1857, and attended high school there. Taft's family came there in 1839, but there were also other Taft households in the Cincinnati area.

So, without thorough documentation that this set belonged to the former president, we will not be able to factor that into its monetary value. We are just going to evaluate it as a silver tea set, and not as a silver tea set with presidential associations, which would add considerably to the value if that former ownership could be firmly established.

The letter-writer refers to this set as being "sterling silver," but it is not. The term "sterling silver" refers to a type of metal that is 92.5 percent pure silver. The English adopted a "sterling standard" in 1300, but it was not until 1560 (during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I) that the sterling standard was firmly set at 925 parts silver per 1,000 parts of metal.

The digits "800" strongly suggest that the grouping was made with what is commonly called "800 silver," meaning that the metal is only 80 percent pure silver.

It is more durable than sterling silver, and is very practical for repeated household usage because its surface is harder and less affected by repeated polishing.

Unfortunately, "800" silver is not nearly as popular with American buyers as sterling silver, which is very hot right now because of the value of the metal.

For insurance purposes, this set, which is probably from the late 19th or early 20th century, should be insured in the $6,000-$8,000 range if the tray is also "800" silver.

• Contact Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson at Treasures in Your Attic, P.O. Box 18350, Knoxville, TN 37928.

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