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.
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