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Identifying Silver Alloys
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As a warning from my experiences dealing with precious metals, you will be correct more often than not if you assume the (silver, gold) you are buying is fake.

As a diligent reader of my blogs, you have the basic knowledge to delve further into identifying silver. Maybe there's only a picture of an item and someone's word but the cautious and prudent buyer in you wants some assurance about this impending purchase. What sleuthing can you do to determine the pedigree and content of a potential new treasure?

Luckily, sterling silver is one of the easiest things to identify with a few simple tricks. You don't have to go to college or attend the local metallurgical class. This article is devoted to the physical marks and appearance only...a future article will be devoted to testing the item.

First, here are some invaluable resources for the silver hunter. These are websites that contain nearly all the information necessary to flesh out your answer. While not complete - there are many unknown and obscure marks that will be lost to history - 99%+ of what the normal person encounters will be covered here. Most have a section for silverplated stuff, too. These include world hallmarks dating back hundreds of years.

In order of useful information, though there are more:

Sterling Flatware Fashions and Facts
Information resource
Handwrought Metalwork from the American Arts & Crafts Movement
Real or Repro
Online Encyclopedia of Silver Marks
Still, anyone with $10 can buy a 'STERLING' or '.925' stamp and mark whatever they want.
Simply, most of the stuff in the USA will be marked with the words/phrases 'STERLING', 'STERLING SILVER', '.925 SILVER', '925/1000 SILVER', '925/1000 FINE', and sometimes just '.925' alone. Note that several companies have the word 'sterling' in their name like the Hartford Sterling Company but this means nothing.

The British use the lion passant as their most notable sterling mark...if it isn't British, this mark is usually meaningless. Many companies use this symbol in their hallmark (to fool the uneducated people, I believe) and they are all basically silverplated junk.

Still, anyone with $10 can buy a 'STERLING' or '.925' stamp and mark whatever they want. However, at least identifying the likelihood that it is a legitimate sterling silver item gives some peace of mind. It is unusual to find a well-known maker's hallmark on a piece that isn't silver.

As for silverplated stuff, that is a whole 'nother can of worms! After seeing enough real silver, you will mostly be able to distinguish silverplated versus true silver alloys due to the coloring, tarnish, and way it reflects light. It does have a distinct smell, too.

Throughout history, silver alloys from 0.958 pure (Britannia silver) to 0.600-ish or lower have been used. Some adventurous souls have also gone higher. The next step is verifying and/or testing a suspect silver item. That will be covered in future entries.

Posted by M: August 18, 2014

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