Will silver be the new gold?


GOLD HAS been attracting the attention of investors worldwide since the economic crisis began in 2008. At Christmas, the precious metal, which is priced in US dollars for international trade, was changing hands at well over $1,500 per ounce – a spectacular 500 per cent increase since the end of 2001 but down from its 2011 September peak of $1,920 an ounce.

Gold coins and jewellery have been selling consistently well at Irish auctions during the past year, especially at John Weldon Auctioneers in Dublin’s Temple Bar which specialises in antique and modern jewellery, gold and silver. Auctioneer John Weldon said the highlight of 2011 was “the rise of gold” which had attracted “immense interest”.

He believed that the price of gold would continue to rise and said his tip for 2012 was “apart from buy gold, look at silver, which is undervalued”.

Irish silver has always been popular among collectors and auction-goers but the market can still offer unexpectedly rich pickings for top quality rare pieces.

Before Christmas, a new world record price for an Irish silver dish ring was set at auction in London where fine art auctioneers Bonhams sold an 18th century Dublin-made example for £26,875 – three times its estimated value. The decorative piece, weighing 11oz and about 4 inches high, made by silversmith Charles Townsend in 1772, was described as “an exceptionally fine George III Irish silver dish ring in the chinoiserie manner”. The engraved decorations include a gentleman “wearing Chinese attire peering out of a pagoda window” and a coat of arms “for Lady Elizabeth Cox, daughter of Hugh, 1st Baron Massy of Duntrileague, and widow of the Revd Sir Michael Cox, 3rd Baronet of Castletown, Co Kilkenny who died in 1772”.

Silver dish rings – essentially circular stands designed to protect polished mahogany tables from hot bowls – were popular in grand houses during the Georgian era in Britain and Ireland. Here they came to be known as “potato rings” since they were mainly used to hold hot bowlfuls of the humble tuber. Surviving examples are regarded as highly collectable.

Mr Weldon said original Georgian dish rings were quite rare and he has sold only “three or four in the past decade”. He explained that most dish rings for sale in antique shops and at auction are, in fact, early 20th century “copies” which, while also collectable, are less valuable. These “modern” versions often have a blue glass lining placed inside to show off the workmanship.