How Can You Tell if Silver Items Are Real or Plated?

If you have been wondering if that old tea set or silverware set is possibly worth a fortune, you’re not alone. Here are some ways to help you figure it out.

Sterling or plate?

Silver plating was created hundred’s of years ago as an inexpensive way for people who could not afford Sterling to still be able to enjoy the metal’s beauty.

If an item is truly Sterling silver — which is commonly referred to as “real” silver or solid silver — it will be stamped with one or more of the following hallmarks somewhere on the item (usually on the bottom):

  • Sterling silver
  • .925 (or higher number)
  • Lion hallmark

If none of these are on the item, you probably have a silver plated piece, as it’s very rare for a valuable item of Sterling-grade silver to have no mark at all.

Silver plated items are often, but not always, marked as such — they’ll typically say something along the lines of silver plate, plated, EP (electroplated) or EPNS (electroplated nickel silver).

What’s your grade?

There are many different grades of silver, each based upon the percentage of the item’s actual silver content. (It’s not at all uncommon for a precious metal like silver to be combined with another metal — creating an alloy — because pure silver on its own is quite soft.)

The purity percentages are expressed in decimals, carried to at least three digits, and should be marked on the piece with a stamped hallmark.

.999: Purest form available — aka pure silver, fine silver, investment-grade silver

.958: Britannia silver, produced from 1697 to 1720

.950: Sterling silver, usually found in antique pieces and on silver from France

.925 and up: Sterling silver (stamped on the front ring at right)

.835: A common European silver blend

The tests

One definitive way to find out if you have some Sterling silver or Fine silver is to take it to an appraiser or a pawnshop. However, a common test they can run — scraping a bit of the metal away and then applying a drop of nitric acid — will damage the piece to a small degree.

There are also a couple easy home tests you can do to help point you in the right direction. None of them will provide positive proof, however, so consider them ballpark estimates at best.

Magnet Test: If a magnet sticks, you know it’s not silver. However, just because it does not stick doesn’t mean it is Sterling — just that it’s not made with steel.

Ice Test: Silver is a very good conductor, and will relay cold or heat very quickly. Put a few ice cubes in a container (not the one you are trying to test) and add about an inch of water. Smaller Sterling silver items will become cold after about 10 seconds, larger ones may take a little longer. This is a helpful method when you have similar items you can compare against. (For example, a possibly silver fork and a fork from a stainless steel cutlery set.)

The Best Test: If you still can’t determine what it is, just bring it to Goldwiser. I can check it for you, since that’s what I do and upon determining what it is, I can buy if from you, too! I’m located at 24910 Kuykendahl Rd., Tomball, TX 77375 and I’m here Monday through Saturday..

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