Identifying Sterling Silver Flatware

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Collecting sterling silver flatware can be both fascinating and profitable. If you are just starting out, you can find valuable pieces at garage sales and by haunting flea markets. You could also advertise and offer a fair price for old, forgotten pieces gathering dust in attics or flatware handed down from generation to generation. The tricky part is identification. However, libraries carry reference books, and good-quality pieces carry hallmarks guaranteeing silver content. What's more, in many cases you can identify the manufacturing silversmith, city of origin and even the year the piece was made.

Things You'll Need

  • Jeweler's loupe
  • Small needle file
  • Silver test kit
  • Look for a hallmark stamped on the back of a spoon or fork or on the rim of a knife handle. Examine the mark carefully through a jeweler's loupe. If you see the figure ".925" or the piece is marked "sterling," it was manufactured in the United States sometime after 1850. Foreign manufactured items carry four-to-six individual stamps; consult an antique silver dealer or a reference guide to identify the marks.

  • Trace the history of English silver by consulting a reputable book of English hallmarks. Look for four marks in particular: the figure of a lion's body with an outstretched paw guaranteeing .925 silver content, a city mark identifying the city of manufacture, a duty mark depicting the profile of the reigning monarch, a stylized letter stamp indicating the year of manufacture from 1478 to the current year, and a maker's mark identifying the manufacturing silversmith.

  • Test a non-hallmarked piece for silver content. File down a tiny area on a hidden section with a small needle file on the underside between two fork tines or the thin edge of a spoon. Place a drop of silver testing solution on the spot; 90-to-100 percent silver will show a creamy color, 77-to-90 percent will display a gray color, and 65-to-75 percent will turn light green.

  • Consult an antique silver dealer if the hallmark is obscure and unreadable because it's rubbed down from constant use. This shows that the particular piece of flatware is very old; it may even be a sought-after collector's piece.

Tips & Warnings

  • Don't polish old silverware by cleaning it with metal polish; by all means buff badly tarnished pieces down with a soft microfiber cloth; this will reveal the underlying patina, and only time can impart this coating. A rich, golden layer of patina enhances the value of antique silver.

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References

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