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How to distinguish between solid silver and silver plate


Its amazing how often silverplate gets mistaken for solid silver. In the vast majority of cases, the following quick checks will let you determine for yourself whether your item is one or the other.

  1. Look over the body of the item and see if you can find any markings (symbols, letters, words). If you find the letters E.P, E.P.N.S or E.P.B.M, your item is silverplate. E.P.N.S. stands for elctro-plated nickel and silver. E.P.B.M stands for electo-plated base metal.
  2. If your item has the word ‘sterling’ on it, its solid silver and most probably American.
  3. If your item has any of the following marks, then its solid silver and from the UK.
    [*]The Lion Passant for Sterling silver in England
  4. The Lion Rampant for Sterling silver in Scotland
  5. The Crowned Harp for Sterling Silver in Ireland
  6. Britannia for Britannia silver in England and Scotland
    ]The next thing to try is cleaning the item! If you suspect that it might be silver-plate, use a liquid silver polish (see here for advice on cleaning silver), as this is the most gentle type. Once the item is thoroughly clean inspect it for signs of the base metal coming through. Most silverplate is either on nickel or on copper. Nickel has a washed out yellow color whilst copper is a more intense orangey colour. The high points are the places to look as these will have suffered the most ware. If you find yellow coloured metal as well as silver then the item is silver-plate except in one special case! It is also possible that the item is silver and has been gilt (gold-plated). Over time the gilt will be worn away and might leave traces of colour which you might mistake for nickel or copper. What you need to do is consider where the golden colour is found. If it is only at the high points then the item is probably plate. If it is only at the low points then the item was probably gilt.[/*:m][/list:o]

If the above checks don’t give you an answer, post some pictures on the forum and we’ll try to help!


A couple of extra tricks, first suggested by Uncle Vic…

if the item is seriously tarnished…

and if you happen to have a metal detector…

Thanks Uncle Vic!