Birmingham & Black Country

Rise in sales of family silver seen in Birmingham Jewellery Quarter

Silver in containers
Image caption The price of silver reached nearly £30 per ounce in 2011

Increasing numbers of people have been selling off the family silver amid rocketing prices, according to Birmingham jewellery traders.

Terry Ann Stephenson, of Lois in the city's Jewellery Quarter, said the high prices meant many items were more valuable sold as scrap rather than for their antique value.

"It's such a shame, but at the end of the day it's just a sign of the times," she said.

"You know people are struggling for money and it's just a way of getting money together to pay bills."

UK silver prices, which were below £4 per ounce in 2003, reached an all-time high of nearly £30 per ounce last year.

The price is currently about £19 per ounce, but selling old silver is still considered a profitable outlet for many people.

Image caption Terry Ann Stephenson said the sales of family silver items were "sad"

Jewellery Quarter traders say they have seen increasing numbers of people turning up with bags containing items such as trophies, cutlery, bracelets and necklaces.

Ms Stephenson said: "The intrinsic value of the silver has actually increased so much... that it's more beneficial to scrap it because you get more money for scrap than for the actual piece."

But while demand for silver also remains high, it has led to fears that some important pieces are ending up being melted down in furnaces and lost forever.

Michael Allchin, assay master at the Birmingham Assay Office where some of the city's finest silverware is on display, said the situation was upsetting.

The office tests and hallmarks precious metal items.

Mr Allchin said: "It's enough to make you cry isn't it? When you think about the labour and craftsmanship that goes into it.

"You've not just got the value of the silver - if you were trying to replace that today and pay for many hundreds of hours of a craftsman's time these things would be astronomically expensive to replace, but they are just being melted down for their scrap value - it's terrible."

But BBC correspondent Phil Mackie said given the fact that the precious metals market was difficult to predict and while the economy remained in the doldrums, selling the family's silver could be the answer to many people's financial problems.

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