Secret Shopping. Hidden Silver Vaults, London

Beneath the non-descript sidewalk of Chancery Lane, The London Silver Vaults offers the largest museum grade collection of antique and contemporary silver in the world. The quiet neighborhood and unassuming entrance bely the underground vaults filled with private vendors selling to collectors and Those in the Know.

I’ve made attempts to visit, for over five years, bank holidays have thwarted each attempt – they close on bank holidays. I finally made an outing, which nearly required a new suitcase to tote my treasures home, they do ship!

The London Silver Vaults is a sizable subterranean market that opened as The Chancery Lane Safe Deposit in May 1885. Originally renting out strong rooms to hold household silver, jewels and important documents it transitioned to housing silver dealers in secure premises a few years later.

With 3.9 ft. thick walls lined with steel the vaults were never broken into. The building above the vaults was struck directly with a bomb during WWII, however, this did not damage the vaults at all, despite the building being destroyed. A new building, Chancery House, was constructed ten years later, and since 1953 it has been in its present format, with shops-based underground, each in their own vault, closed each night with massive metal doors.

Descend five levels below ground by elevator to enter a massive steel door into each private seller’s vault.  All the shops have been owned for at least 50 years by the same families. It is said that it has “the largest single collection of silver for sale in the world” contained within more than forty shops, the owners enjoy sharing their knowledge and are a wealth of information on the antique objects they offer.

Pieces date from the 1600s to present day, English silverware is recognized as the finest in the world due to the quality control of silver goods since the 12th century when the trade organization, Goldsmiths Hall, invented the term ‘hallmark.’ Silver experts are well versed in the different hallmarks. From silver tableware, fine silver cutlery, unique cocktail shakers, decorative pieces and gifts to jewelry and special collector items.

On my list were silver asparagus tongs and large bread forks. What – you don’t have asparagus tongs? Asparagus tongs are a specialized form of kitchen tongs dedicated to handling asparagus at the table. There are ones for eating asparagus and for serving it. Both types have fallen out of fashion, though both can still be purchased from specialized kitchenware and dinnerware dealers. Still in fashion at my table! I was unaware of single guest asparagus tongs, a prize in its original velvet box… I left this small fortune black velvet box accessory with the shop owner.

A few favorite vendors, plan to spend a day, half of Saturday wasn’t enough to browse all the treasures. As one of the original companies to open in The London Silver Vaults, David S Shure & Co are now fourth generation silver dealers who specialize in antique and modern silverware, old Sheffield plate and cutlery. David is a renowned specialist in British silverware from the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian periods and holds a keen interest in designer items from the latter part of the 20th century.

Vault One. David Shure. Our first stop where we spent much time with the dealer marveling at Victorian silver biscuit boxes which unfold with the touch of a button. Note to self: pay more attention to dining scenes in English period films!

He also has a grand collection of cocktail shakers, think of the elegant Thin Man series, Nick & Nora and Asta during their cocktail hour. The Thin Man opening scene – the slightly sloshed, yet debonair, William Powell as Nick Charles instructing a bartender: “The important thing is the rhythm! Always have rhythm in your shaking. Now a Manhattan you shake to fox-trot time; a bronx to two-step time; a dry martini, you always shake to waltz time.” Cocktails equaled glamor, elegance and style. My timeless Prohibition era cocktail shaker made in 1930 by International Silver fit into my carry on.

Vault 29. Established over 60 years ago, Silstar Antiques is a family run business with a long history of working in the famous London Silver Vaults. A traditional friendly dealer who likes to build trusted, lasting relationships with their clients, Silstar is proud to supply antique and modern silver to buyers and collectors around the world. They are best known for their large stock of antique silver goblets, some of which date back to the 16th century and typically carry over 100 goblets in stock at any one time. Silstar refreshes their stock of goods continually with new arrivals weekly.

Vault 31 & 32. Wax Antiques specialize in early English and continental silver from the 1600s onwards. Their impressive collection includes rare items from the Charles II period and earlier. Members of LAPADA, Wax antiques also offer an extensive stock of Georgian, Victorian, and Edwardian silverware.

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Highly Recommend!