HUGE quantities of antique silver and gold were scrapped last week as precious metal prices hit record highs.
Silver dealers in particular clamoured to take advantage of a two-fold hike in the bullion market, the like of which has not been seen for 30 years.
Driven by a weaker US dollar and continuing tensions in the Middle East and North Africa, the prices of gold and silver hit new record highs on Monday, April 25 (a bank holiday in the UK) and on the European markets the following day.
Gold rose as high as $1518.30 (£918.70) an ounce, while silver briefly reached an all-time high of $49.79 (£30.13) an ounce. In the following days prices fell back a little, but silver, at close to £25 an ounce, is comfortably at its highest since January 1980 and the peak of the Bunker Hunt bubble (see here). The precious white metal has gained more than 160 per cent in the past year alone.
These rises brought remarkable scenes as bullion dealers across the country were inundated with material for scrapping. Hatton Garden firm 375 Live Ltd traded close to a metric tonne of silver on Tuesday, April 26, when prices touched £30 an ounce.
With their value as a raw material far outstripping their value as antiques, proprietor Steve Conway saw some "stunning" objects emerging from the dealing community to be scrapped.
Good quality Victorian tea sets, Georgian salvers, trophies, cruet sets and flatware were melted onsite as more than £1.5m changed hands.
When ATG visited the following day (when the price was just over £23 an ounce), the plastic dustbins filling with silver included items of the calibre of a large George II armorial-engraved salver weighing 70oz (scrap value £1610) and a late 19th century Tiffany engraved tea and coffee service weighing in at 260oz (£5980) with its ornate tea kettle and stand. If they had not been 'saved' by a buyer wishing to own them as functional works of art by the close of trading, they were heading to the crucible.
Why have prices spiked? Silver is a key metal in the production of electrical components, but more generally investors are buying precious metals as a haven against a host of financial uncertainties (particularly inflation and a weak dollar) and the recent geopolitical turmoil.
Gold has been strong since the global financial crisis of 2008. However, the price of silver has been more volatile, having quintupled since 2008, and has grown 12-fold in the last decade.
By Roland Arkell