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Saturday, February 14, 2009

How Can I Tell if It's Real Silver?

A reader named Leslie left a question attached to an earlier post. It was such a good question, we thought it deserved its own post. Here was the question:

I have been collecting many items for over 20 years. I am now getting much of it out of my house. I placed a whole box of 'silver' items in my garage sale last summer. My neighbor came by, saw it, and brought it back to me and told me not to sell them. He said that they were more valuable than I was asking for. I don't know what they are. I don't even know if they are real silver. I bought them because they were pretty. How can I tell what is silver and what is not silver? Some have marks on them, some don't and some marks have all but disappeared. Thank you.
I suppose in this context, the definition of "real" silver is "sterling" silver which is 92.5% silver content. One very common method of identification is to look for the word, "Sterling", imprinted somewhere on a piece. This is not 100% proof but it is a very good indication. If a brand name can be found, it adds additional verification. You may also see the number, "925", "92" or "92.5". This is a clue but not a guarantee. Sterling pieces can have significant value. Look for other posts in this blog to see how value might be affected by condition, custom engraving, etc.

The other common form of silver ware is "silver plate". A silver coating is placed on top of some other metal. Used pieces may look great but do not have significant resale value, generally speaking. Silver plate pieces often have the manufacturer's name and may have additional information regarding the pattern name.

If there are no marks found, try matching the pattern. There are literally thousands of patterns in use today and the task of matching may prove difficult. A dealer in used silver might be able to help.

If all else fails, try polishing the pieces with a good silver polish and see how it looks. This won't help much with proving the silver content but at least, they might look good enough to attract the attention of a potential buyer or you might want to just keep them for your own use.

We welcome photographs sent to us via email. We'll try to help identify a pattern. Click on "View My Complete Profile" in the right column. This will take you to a screen with our email link.

NOTE: Read the update to this post, "How Can I Tell If It's Real Silver? - Part 2", dated June 15, 2009.

By clicking on "Comments/Questions" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions and comments.

15 comments:

babygil40 said...

I found a teapot today that just caught my eye, had to have it! Can I send a picture of it to you? it has no marks except under the lid it has the number 14. thanks, Bea

Silver Jim said...

Please do.

jeffery said...

Does silver hold a magnet? How about silver alloys?

debra said...

I also want to know what holds a magnet.

Simon said...

MAGNET AND SILVER IS A BIG NO NO... FAKE...
If you go coin hunting, always bring a magnet. I bought some fake mexican coins and learned the hard way. Also if you see yellow shine like gold, or bite-it and leaves a mark, it's most likely silver..

Julie said...

My husband had a silverware set that he got from his exwife..sadly our house burned down but I did recover a few pieces. They are badly burned, but I was wondering if they could be recycled. The only markings I can read clearly on one of the forks is " 1835 R. Wallace 12" and "Pat May 12.02"
I don't know if this information helps at all but I thought I would ask.

Silver Jim said...

This is a response to the last comment.

Since the word, "Sterling", is not on the fork, the set may be made of silver plate and are not worth recycling. I feel certain the patent year is 1902. The "1835" refers to the founding date of the company.

To make certain, you might take these pieces buy a scrap gold/silver dealer. If they offer you anything, then it's probably sterling. Get several offers before selling.

Anonymous said...

ive came across what seems to be some silver and gold spanish dancing medals there not stampped dose this mean there not real silver and gold?

Silver Jim said...

This is in response to the question about medals.

They could still be gold or silver but the question I always have in a case like this is, "Why would the manufacturer NOT mark pieces regarding metallic content?" It seems to me that if a piece has precious metals in it, the manufacturer would want you to know that. But I can't say with certainty that they are always marked.

Anonymous said...

I bought a silver dish this weekend. It is marked with USA and an eagle's head with the numbers 2357. Is it silver or anything valuable?

Silver Jim said...

This is in regard to the silver dish question.

Since the word, "Sterling", is not present, I assume it is made of silver plate. If I am correct, it's probably not worth much.

The "2357" probably is the model number. A number of companies have used eagles in their marks so I can't really say who made this.

Anonymous said...

I got a silver necklace from my friend it a cross on the back it says 925 Sterling r is it real silver

Silver Jim said...

"925" and "Sterling" are both indications the piece is made of sterling which is 92.5% silver. This is not a 100% guarantee because there are counterfeit pieces. However, it is a very good indication.

Anonymous said...

Found a set of 6 teaspoons only thing on the back of them are the words Alvin sterling on back did a little research seem to be a Hamilton design but the ones I have have the monogram f on them can anybody help with the value

Silver Jim said...

This is a response to the comment about Alvin Hamilton teaspoons.

Since this pattern is not as common as some, there are not many sales to use as examples. Recently, some monogrammed Hamilton teaspoons sold on eBay for about $13 each. A non-monogrammed spoon sold for $14.