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Collectors Corner: Identifying Your Stuff, Part II: Silver and Silver-plate

Collectors Corner
Collectors Corner: Identifying Your Stuff - Silver

If you’re anything like us, you’ve probably spent many pleasant Saturdays combing yard, rummage, and estate sales for items to add to your collections or for resale.

Until this year.

The lockdowns associated with Covid-19 have only recently begun to be lifted, and are in danger of being reimposed as infection rates appear to be rising once again. No one knows when yard-sale season will resume, but you’ve probably had the time now to sort through that pile of stuff you’ve accumulated over the years. Chances are that you picked up quite a number of pieces that are silver-plated or even, possibly, silver, and you’d like to know what they are and what they’re worth.

Just as in the realm of jewelry, your eyes and a magnifying glass are the first tools you would use to help identify your object. Flip it over and check for any marks on the bottom. Almost all sterling will be marked “sterling” or 925 or .925 or some combination. Chances are that there will also be a hallmark or maker’s mark that can be looked up in any good reference work (several are listed below). Silver-plate may be marked only with a company name or logo.

Once you have identified the maker, a web search of auction results will give you a general idea of your object’s value – don’t forget to check sites such as Heritage Auctions and Hindman.

At this point you might wish to be certain that what you have is not a fake or forgery or silver-plated copy of a noted piece. A magnet will not tell you that an object is actually silver (a non-magnetic metal), but it will indicate the presence of a magnetic material such as iron, nickel, or steel. And since silver possesses the highest thermal conductivity of all metals, it melts ice really fast. Try putting an ice cube on a silver plate or in a silver creamer. It will turn to liquid in less than a minute.

Of course, it may be that your object has no worth in the secondary markets beyond its bullion (silver) content. If so, you will want to keep an eye on the spot-price of silver, which has fluctuated tremendously over the last decade, since it reached a high of almost $50 per ounce in 2011, and is currently experiencing great volatility.

Wish to conduct more research into this area of the secondary markets? Check out the resources listed below, and

Good Luck!

Books

Encyclopedia of American Silver Manufacturers, by Dorothy T. Rainwater

Jackson’s Hallmarks, by Ian Pickford

Miller’s Antiques Marks, by Judith Miller

Websites

Current Melt Value of Coins (Coinflation.com) – We’ve added this site for the articles about precious metals and for current spot prices.

Don’t Fake It: 7 Ways to Identify Precious Metals (Rocky Mountain Coin) – Tips apply to jewelry, coins, and other objects.

How to Tell If an Item Is Made of Real Silver (Martha Stewart) – Lots of tips and interesting anecdotes.

Online Encyclopedia of Silver Marks, Hallmarks & Makers’ Marks (925-1000.com) – This truly remarkable site encompasses over 1,200 pages of silver marks on sterling and plate from the United States, Great Britain, and around the world. Can’t find your mark? Post a picture in the forum, and one of the members might be able to identify it for you! The site also includes a plethora of helpful information on topics ranging from Flatware Patterns (from such makers as Gorham, Oneida, Wallace, and Jensen), identifying date marks on pieces by Reed & Barton and others, caring for and polishing silver, an illustrated Silver Glossary, and even an International Ring Size Converter.

Precious Metals Prices (Money Metals Exchange) – Offers up-to-the-minute spot prices, 20-year charts, more.

Silvercollection.it – Great international resource encompasses 1500 pages of information on silver, silver plate, and more from around the world. Not always easy to navigate, but richly illustrated.

Michele Alice
Michele Alice
Michele Alice is EcommerceBytes Update Contributing Editor. Michele is a freelance writer in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts. She collects books, science fiction memorabilia and more!