• Sterling silver flatware is most identifiable by a pattern, monogram or hallmark on the piece itself. A hallmark consists of marks, symbols or numerals from the manufacturer. Particular patterns on sterling flatware can be researched in guidebooks like Kovels' "Sterling Flatware Identification & Value Guide."

    European and American Silver Flatware

    For the layman, guidebooks are an easy way to determine if sterling flatware is silver, as well as its age and value. Sterling silver is often categorized in price guidebooks by the period when it was made. European sterling silver flatware falls into the antique and rarer silver category and was produced before 1906. It typically has an identifiable hallmark, many of which are pictured in sterling flatware guidebooks. To see various flatware sterling silver hallmarks and patterns, check out On collectible or newer pieces, such as sterling flatware made in America, flatware will be marked with the word "sterling" or "925." Sterling is not 100 percent pure, but a mix of metals, such as 92.5 percent silver and 7.5 percent copper. Sometimes there will be a mark such as "925/100," meaning 925 out of 1,000 parts are pure silver. Sterling silver is also generally heavier than silver plate because of the addition of copper. All silver tarnishes over time, but silver plate often has permanent tarnish marks that cannot be removed when cleaned with silver polish. These pieces look inferior or "cheap" because of this characteristic alone. There are other guidebooks specializing in American silver identification, such as "American Sterling Silver Flatware" by Mary Ann Dolan.

    Testing Flatware

    Another way to know if flatware is sterling silver is to test it with a silver kit tester. Testing kits are used for jewelry, but also can be used to test sterling silver flatware. The kit contains a stone to rub sterling silver to "rough" the surface and acid testing solution to put on the roughened surface in droplet form. There is a chemical reaction and true sterling silver or .925 will turn dark red. Depending on the testing kit, if the acid disappears, the piece might be plated. If it remains, there is a good chance the flatware piece is silver.

    Where to Purchase

    Test kit can be found at a jewelry supply company or at online sites like eBay. If sterling silver flatware is rare or antique, such as pieces made from foreign countries that used purer metals, it might not test correctly. This type of silver flatware will look almost gray white when properly polished and should not be tested with a kit or damage can result. Instead of testing undamaged or rarer silver flatware with a kit, bring it to a professional silversmith or antique dealer specializing in silver for proper identification and possible dating, if no hallmark is found.


    Antique Cupboard

    "Sterling Flatware Identification & Value Guide"

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