Pure silver is too soft for flatware but 92.5 percent silver, or sterling silver, is functional and beautiful. Mass-produced sterling silver flatware has been a family heirloom for more than a century, originating in the 1830s and becoming widely available after the Centennial Exposition of 1876 in Philadelphia. In 1906, the National Stamping Act required that makers mark silver and gold items with content and maker. You may find foreign silver not made for the American market that does not conform to the National Stamping Act. This sterling flatware may have number marks.
American Stamping System
According to the National Stamping Act, sterling silver must be 92.5 percent silver and 7.5 percent alloy, within 4/1000 accuracy. Consideration for all solder and alloys allows 10/1000 variance by law for sterling silver. Coin silver must be 90.0 percent silver and 10 percent alloy, within 4/1000 accuracy and not less than 10/1000 variance from the mark stamped. Each importer or maker is required to add a trademark or identifier that is the same size as the content information. Makers, sellers or importers cannot legally mark items as sterling or sterling silver unless they meet the standard.
Many sterling flatware patterns have identification at the narrowest part of the backside of the handle. The item may be stamped or embossed with "sterling" and the logo or manufacturer's name. Gorham uses the lion and Old English "G", creating the appearance of English silver. Reed & Barton uses the "R & B" in a similar style. International Silver marks pieces with "International Sterling" or "Sterling" with a Native American trademark. Kirk Stieff uses the "Kirk Sterling" in a square with the bird logo. American-production sterling flatware products do not have numbers but are clearly marked with the sterling identification.
European Number Stamping
Other countries have been more casual about marking sterling silver flatware. Sterling flatware from Denmark became a classic collectible in the U.S. with Danish Modern style of the 1950s. The Denmark standard for silver was .830 after 1936, but .925 for exported sterling. Danish sterling often is stamped .925S with the country name and maker's mark. The three towers mark guarantees no less than .826 silver, reports .925-1000 website.
Mexican silver may have number marks and the words "silver" or "Mexico Silver" stamping. The Mexican government started the use of the eagle stamp in 1948 but dropped the mark in 1979 in favor of the "TC-30" number styled to identify specific manufacturers and locations. Mexico silver may be coin silver at .900, sterling silver at .925 or may have more silver content than the U.S. requires for sterling. Mexican silver often is marked .950 or .980. Although sets of sterling silver flatware from Mexico are not common, Penny C. Morrill shows some sets by Hector Aguilar in "Silver Masters of Mexico."
- Virginia Center for Digital History; University of Virginia Press -- Pop Culture and Dolley Madison; Silverware
- Cornell University Law School; Legal Information Institute; § 296 -- Standard of Fineness of Silver Articles; Deviation
- .925-1000.com; Online Encyclopedia of Silver Marks, Hallmarks & Makers' Marks; Danish Silver Hallmarks -- After 1893
- .925-1000.com; Online Encyclopedia of Silver Marks, Hallmarks & Makers' Marks; Mexican Silver Marks & Makers' Marks I
- "Silver Masters of Mexico"; Penny C. Morrill; 1996
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images
How to Identify Silver Stamps
Silver is a precious metal with a cool, whitish tone and an enchanting shine. For thousands of years, cultures throughout the world...