Nothing seems to confuse folks more than the difference between STERLING silver and silver plate items. Here are a few of the comments we frequently hear and some facts to clear up some of the confusion.
Myth: It tarnishes, so it must be Sterling.
Fact: ALL silver, whether Sterling or Plate, will tarnish over time. This is a chemical reaction that happens over time which is why silver is often stored in air tight containers. One interesting
note – the more you use your silver, the less it will tarnish. Think about that silver ring you own or the pendant you wear all the time. It hardly ever needs polishing, right?
Myth: It’s heavy, so it must be Sterling.
Fact: Weight is not a good determining factor of Sterling Silver. Silver Plated items often have a very thin layer of silver bonded to another, heavier metal; frequently brass, lead, nickel or copper. You can imagine that a thin coating of silver on a lead piece is going to be very heavy indeed, but not very valuable.
Myth: It has hallmarks, so it must be Sterling.
Fact: Lots of silver plated items are hallmarked with maker’s marks. You need to be able to understand and “read” the marks in order to determine if they are Sterling or Plate.
So then, how do you determine if an item is Sterling or not?
With very few exceptions, if an item is Sterling, it will be marked as such. Sterling is identified as 92.5% pure silver. It will be stamped with “925” or “Sterling” or a “lion” hallmark, depending mainly on the country of manufacture. Other hallmarks will assist with identifying the maker and date of the item. This is a whole study in itself and there are many websites out there which can assist with identification. With respect to the weight of Sterling Silver, remember that in some cases and item has been “weighted” with a cement style component and then sealed with Sterling Silver. This is common in candle sticks and candelabra so make sure you check that out before you pay for something that you believe is very heavy solid silver.
As with all things, if you are not sure, make sure that you ask an expert. Our staff and dealers at the Old Strathcona Antique Mall are able to help you identify whether your silver is Sterling or Silver Plate. Whether Sterling or Plate, silver is beautiful and should be enjoyed! So……enjoy it!
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