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Crash course needed


I’d like to ask a few questions about identifying silver objects, learn a bit about what they are made of.
First off, if say a spoon or fork is plated, what typically is the base metal?
Are there very many pieces made of pure silver that are likely to be found on the open market such as flea markets and thrift stores?
Can one tell by weight and or softness if an object is made of high silver content metal?


Hi there Randy and thanks for joining us. The most common base metal is copper, but others are also used.

I have found solid silver items in strange places such are yard sales and thrift stores, but not many. On the other hand, I’ve bought many solid silver items at flea markets from people who knew they were solid silver, but were clueless about current prices.

Weight is not a good indicator of the composition of an item, other than most plated holloware is very heavy vs. solid silver because the base metal is quite thick. A good rule of thumb is if the item does not carry marks indicating it is solid silver, it is plated. Almost all solid silver is marked as such.

A trick is to rub the surface of the item briskly with your thumb (to heat the surface by friction) then smell it…plated items have an acrid smell from the base metal, while solid silver has almost no smell.


Uncle Vic

Thanks Uncle Vic!
So, what kind of marks would I be looking for? Do they stamp something like .999 fine on the bottom or inside of the item in question? I know that gold articles are supposed to have the carat value in them or on them if plated, and sterling silver has 925, right? We have matching necklaces which have 925 Italy stamped on the chain ends.
Just today my wife and I were looking at some silverware goblets at a thrift store which seemed to me to have a very light weight to them, but they were also pretty thin wall spinnings too. There weren’t any markings on them at all. I didn’t think that they would be made out of aluminum with a silver plating, and copper I think should have weighed more. Short of doing a check of the mass of any item by weighing it and measuring its volume in a water tank, I guess that it takes a practiced eye or extensive knowledge to know for sure. Of course anything that is stamped China or India is most likely to be junk, right? And there was this weird little item that looked to be some kind of a spoon as it had a handle on it, but the underside of the cup portion was a Christmas tree and it was cone shaped inside. It was obviously plated as it cracked when I flexed the handle a bit and the lip of the cup had a spot where the plating was chipped off. By the dull gray color of it and its extreme weight, I’d say that it was most likely pewter with a nickel plating on it.
I was at a big flea market with a buddy of mine on Sunday, and a guy two spaces down from us had a box of knives, spoons and forks, some of which had pretty hefty prices on them. $22.00 for a small fork would tell me that it was probably pure silver, but I don’t recall any distinctive markings on them that indicated what they were made of. Other items said “triple” on them, most likely a reference to a triple thick plating, however thick that is!! Some of the spoons were obviously souvenirs with their funky handles and small size.


Randy, its gonna take some study on your part, but the basics are really not that complicated. First, just read the prior posts on this site and study the pictures of the marks. Second, get the basic books and become familiar with the basic marks and makers.

The British have a legally sanctioned system for marking silver that dates back many hundreds of years with the standard purity being 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper, or “the sterling standard”…thus “925” silver. That is also the standard for “sterling” silver in the USA and many other countries. The British mark for 925 silver is the lion facing left with his right front paw raised. The word “sterling” or “sterling silver” means the same thing on silver made in the US. Those words almost never appear on British silver, and almost always do on American. That little lesson will keep you out of a lot of trouble. If its not marked, don’t buy it.

Spend some time on this site and you will make a lot of progress toward being comfortable with silver.

I’m heading out in the morning to Miami Beach for the antique show to gawk at silver prices for a week, and will return on the 27th.


Uncle Vic