The most crucial factor in identifying antique silver flatware and jewelry is the presence of silver markings. These tiny stamped symbols, usually found on the underside or back of silver items, can help you identify the purity of an item, its manufacturer, and sometimes the date it was made with date marks. An essential skill for antique silver enthusiasts is the ability to read silver markings.
Popular Types of Silver
There are many types of silver on the market today. The oldest American silver is called “coin,” and it contains at least 89.2 percent of silver if made between 1792 and 1837. This amount was set by the U.S. Mint following the American Revolution, which rose to 90 percent in the years after 1837. Sterling must contain at least 92.5 percent of silver. This standard – 92.5 percent pure silver to 7.5% copper alloy, which strengthens soft silver-was first established by the English in the 12th century. It was later adopted by most silver-making countries, including the United States, in 1868. Although the coin is often thought to be less valuable than sterling, it actually contains about two percent more silver, and in rare cases, may contain even more. A piece made of a coin may sometimes be more valuable than American sterling due to its beauty and age.
Silver-plated, which is a layer of solid silver on a metal base such as copper or Nickel silver (an alloy between nickel, copper, and zinc), was created later than sterling and coin. However, many forms of silver plate date back to the 18th century. In England, electroplating was invented in the 1830s to 1840s. This method is still in use today. The electroplate “Hotel” is made from silver that can be used in trains, ships, restaurants, and hotels. A sterling sugar bowl can be dented easily, but a similar piece made of hotel silver can be dropped with little damage because its base metal is more durable than the silver exterior.
Some alloys, such as Nevada silver and Venetian silver, contain nickel and silver. They are solid metal and not plated, but they have less silver than sterling. These lower-grade compounds cost less than silver-plated pieces, but they are harder to polish.
Finding and identifying silver hallmarks on different pieces
You will find tiny stamped marks on almost every silver or silver-plated piece. These marks can be numbers, pictures, words, letters, or names. A magnifying glass and some silver polish can be helpful. To polish the marks, gently use a cotton swab. This will contrast your stamp’s recessed area, which will still have tarnish. If you are unable to see the details, use a magnifying lens. Depending on the type of silver item, you may see silver markings in different places.
Finding silver hallmarks on jewelry
The type of piece will determine the placement of silver marks. You will find silver markings at the following locations:
- Turn the piece over for pins, pendants, or other large flat jewelry items. The item should have a small stamp on the back.
- Look inside the item for cuff bracelets and rings. You should find the hallmark somewhere on the item’s interior surface.
- Check for a stamp near the clasp on necklaces or other silver-colored items. This may be a small metal tag.
Flatware: Silver Hallmarks
Sterling silver and silver plate flatware is always marked. However, the exact location of the mark will vary depending on the item.
- Spoons will have a hallmark on the handle. This is usually located just below the bowl.
- A silver hallmark will be placed near the shoulder or broader parts of forks.
- Some serving pieces and knives may have their marks stamped on the ferrule or collar that surrounds the handle.
Find silver hallmarks for large pieces and dishes
The markings are also found on large pieces such as bowls, dresser sets, and trays. These tips will help you locate them:
- A hallmark should be placed on the bottom of dishes, such as silver teapots, bowls, and trays.
- A stamp should also be placed on the bottom of candlesticks, vases, and figurines.
- Personal care items such as hairbrushes, mirrors, and other components of dresser sets will have their stamps on the underside of the handle.
Reading silver markings to identify silver plate and sterling silver
For determining the silver content of an object, silver markings are critical. It can be hard to distinguish between silver plate and sterling silver for the untrained eye. However, it is crucial to differentiate between these materials when determining the value of antique silver. Silver marks are the key.
Common sterling silver markings
Silver is a soft metal, and manufacturers rarely use it alone. Sterling silver contains 92.5 percent silver and 7.5% other metals, such as nickel and copper. For centuries, silversmiths have been legally responsible for stamping their wares to identify them as sterling silver. They used different stamps depending on the time and location of the manufacturer. These are the most popular:
- “Sterling silver”
- “92.5% pure”
- Sterling silver made in England: Lion passant (or a lion with one paw raised).
- The Thistle mark is for sterling silver made in Scotland
- Sterling silver made in Ireland is a crowned harp
Common silver plate hallmarks
Silver plate items can be made from any base metal and then coated with a thin layer of pure silver. Silver plate items don’t have to be marked. If a piece doesn’t have a mark to indicate its silver content, it probably is silver-plated. There are some common signs of silver plate you might see:
- “EPNS” (Electroplated nickel silver)
- “EPBM” (Electro-plated Britannia steel)
- “EP” (Electro-plated)
- “BP” (Britannia Plate)
Other silver markings for silver content
You may also find other marks that indicate the silver content:
- “Nickel silver” and “German silver” are signs that an item isn’t made from silver but is silver in color.
- The Britannia mark (a figure with shield and staff) indicates 958/1000 parts silver. This is slightly purer than sterling silver.
- An item marked “Coin” or “coin silver” is 90% or 900/1000 parts of silver.
Manufacturers Matching Silver Maker’s Marks
Many silversmiths stamped their wares with makers marks, but not in all cases. These markings on antique silver are essential for identifying a pattern and determining the value or official name. Manufacturers have changed their marks over the years, so each maker’s mark can be unique. These tips will help you understand the maker’s mark on your silver piece. There are many variations.
- You can compare your piece with marks in the Online Encyclopedia of Silver Marks & Maker’s Marks or Silver Hallmarks and Marks. These sites provide extensive information and photographs about specific manufacturers of sterling silver and silver plate.
- It is important to remember that many manufacturers make sterling silver and silver plate products.
- One silver company could have used many variations over the years. These marks can be used to date the piece.
Dating Antique Silver Using Marks
Many pieces have a patent stamp right next to the maker’s marks and silver markings. The piece’s date of manufacture is not indicated by the patent date. Many manufacturers would patent designs for jewelry, flatware, and other items, then produce them for many decades. The patent date is a good starting point for estimating the item’s age. There are many ways to indicate the patent date for antique silver, including the following:
- “Patent” followed with a year.
- “Pat.” Then, a year later.
- “Patent application for” is followed by a year.
Learn important clues from silver markings and their meanings
The most valuable antique silver identification marks that you can study silver with are silver markings. These marks provide information about your silver pieces’ history, value, age, and silver content. In addition, these marks provide clues that will help you understand your piece.