Typical German Silver Item

Typical German Silver Item

All Silver is NOT Sterling

Alpaca Silver Earrings

Typical Alpaca Silver Item

If your plans are to buy sterling, you should know that not everything marked sterling is pure silver. And, there are some items - antiques, jewelry, antique mesh purses - that may be marked 'sterling' or 'silver' but actually have no silver content at all!

Knowing the different marks and names used to identify the different types of silver... and non-silver...beforehand can be a valuable asset when evaluating items before purchasing, saving you some serious monies.

How is pure silver defined? Bullion silver is defined as 1000 fine. Understanding the numerical marks used to define silver content vs. other metals added to silver for strength is very important to now just how much pure silver is in the piece you are buying.

The most common numerical hallmarks found are:
  • .999 (999/1000 considered the same as sterling)
  • .970 (970/1000)
  • .925 (925/10000 found on most 'sterling' jewelry)
  • .900 (900/1000)
  • .800 (800/1000 typically found on vintage foreign jewelry)

English Sterling Hallmark For most sterling items, they will be marked with the word 'Sterling' or the numbers .999; however, if the item were manufactured in England, it may have the figure of a lion stamped on it.

The majority of sterling hollowware pieces, are marked "Sterling weighted". This inidicates the base has been filled and then covered with a thin layer of Sterling. This procedure makes the item more stable for use; however, if you are buying the item only for scrap value, you want to take this fact into account when negotiating a price. You do not want to be paying for sterling when better than fifty-percent of your purchase is resin or plaster of paris. This also true for the handles of some flatware. For more information and to see a gallery of pictures of weighted sterling items, visit How to Buy Sterling.

When shopping the sterling silver market, there are a few other thing to take into account regarding value of the item:
  • The implied value with regard to artistic design, signatures, etc.
  • The value of any real gemstones that may be set into the piece
  • The antiquity or age of the item
While almost all sterling pieces will have some sort of mark, you may find items with marks that sound like they are silver - but are not. When silver shopping watch out for the following:
  • EPNS - Electroplated nickel silver*
  • Silverplate - base metal covered with silver plating
  • German Silver - no silver content*
  • Alpaca or Alpaca Silver (found on some 'silver' imports) - no silver content*
* Nickel silver, German silver, Alpacca and Alpacca silver are an alloy of copper (60%), nickel (20%) and zinc (20%). (Percentages shown are ones used in typical formula.)

Although sounding like they should be silver, none of these items are sterling although may have significant value for other reasons, i.e., antique value, antiquity or age. That being said, they should not be purchased at the price of sterling if buying only sterling is your intent.

They will not wear like sterling nor can they be sold as scrap. If owning sterling silver is your goal - either for monetary or aesthetic reasons - knowing what's real and what isn't is easily accomplished. A good, inexpensive kit for testing silver can be your best tool. Get the testing kit we use from Amazon. It's inexpensive, easy to use and well worth it.

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