Where: 53-64 Chancery Lane, WC2A 1QS
When: Monday-Friday 9am-5.30pm, Saturday 9am-1pm
Nearest tube: Chancery Lane
An institution without parallel, but still one of London’s best-kept secrets, the Silver Vaults in Chancery Lane is a one-of-a-kind in the antiques trade – a Monday to Saturday underground venue devoted to the buying, selling, valuing and repair of silver.
Although trading in its current format since a bomb-damaged facility was rebuilt in 1953, the Vaults still retain a certain mystique.
Only visible at ground level via a modest road sign, five flights of stairs lead to an underground warren of corridors, massive iron doors and a sea of white metal. Security is 24/7 but no wonder. It remains the proud boast around here that there has never been a robbery within the precincts.
This real-life Aladdin’s Cave began life in 1876 as the Chancery Lane Safe Deposit, a strong room for the portable wealth of London’s elite. Not until the Second World War did the Vaults begin to evolve from strong room to unique retail centre.
A haven for Hatton Garden jewellers during the Blitz (when Chancery House took a direct hit), as London was rebuilt, the dealers who made ends meet by selling silver to American servicemen chose to stay. Many are family businesses: a number of the current shop owners at The London Silver Vaults can recall visiting their grandparents’ storage vaults many decades ago.
All 30 members of the Vaults – each operating as independent shops – belong to The London Silver Vaults Association and abide by a self-policing charter.
Refreshingly free from the ‘tourist tat’ that permeates so many of London’s ‘antiques’ markets in recent years, merchandise is always sold with a guarantee to condition and authenticity, be it a champagne swizzle stick or spectacular examples of Georgian or earlier silver priced into six and even seven figures.
A current highlight from dealer William Walter – among the longest-established in the Vaults – is a set of a dozen Tudor apostle spoons (1524 and 1553), one of only a handful in private hands, priced in the region of £1m.
The dealers of the Vaults have supplied silver, plate and jewellery to the most famous retail stores, private collections and museums, but equally important for day-to-day business are gift objects for christenings, weddings and anniversaries.
Surprisingly, given the number of dealers offering what – on the face of it – is a single product, many are specialists in niche fields, from post-war silver, Irish silver, smallwork and cutlery sets.
It was the famous Anglo-American collector Sir Arthur Gilbert who said: “If you cannot find it in the Vaults, you cannot find it anywhere.”
Budget range: £10 for a silver teaspoon to seven-figure sums for the finest examples of English silver and goldsmithing.