As an appraiser I am getting more calls that the client’s insurance company is requesting an appraisal for sterling silver flatware and hollow ware as part of the individual’s property coverage. Frequently the homeowner isn’t sure what they have or how to determine whether it is “Sterling” of “Silverplate”. There may be marks on the back of a piece that indicate what it is or there may be marks that represent silver made in countries other than the United States. So how do you as the property owner know?
There are websites with articles about sterling silver and marks for the companies and countries. A preliminary look on your part can help you decide whether to call an appraiser or not.
First look at the back of the piece. If it is a fork, look at the handle. The writing can be small but it is generally readable if it is not worn. A magnifying glass can be helpful. In the United States a law was passed in 1907 that sterling silver had to be marked “Sterling”. But you may find the number .925 which is also a sterling mark for American silver. Another mark is “coin silver” which was literally made from melting coins and can date to 1850. This silver is soft and can break easily. Silver that is 925 indicates it is 92.5 parts silver and 7.5% copper or brass.
English silver is indicated by a marking system. This is a series of marks generally in groups of four or five referred to as “hallmarks”. These include a purity mark, town or guild mark, date mark and a maker’s mark and often a mark identifying the reigning sovereign. This system was used in England, Ireland and Scotland.
However, other countries also produced sterling silver and each of them have a marking system. Therefore, never discount something until you are certain of its origin.
Silverplate is a process of electrochemically depositing a thin coating of silver on a base metal such as copper, nickel or steel. These pieces may also be marked. Some of the marks include the actual word “Silverplate”, A1, AA, Deepsilver, Electroplate, EP, EPNS Quadruple Plate.
There are many excellent resources found on the internet for identifying sterling silver and silverplate as well as maker’s marks. But to be certain of what you have if you think it is sterling, call an appraiser. The replacement cost may be far more than the cost of an appraisal.