Silver Tips 101.

Do you want to Collect Vintage and Antique Silver? For The Best "Buys", Look for Sterling Pieces that Date From The First Quarter of the 20th Century & Earlier and 19th & Early 20th-Century Silver Plate from the Best Silversmiths/Companies. 

There are Three Major Categories of Collectible Silver; Namely - Sterling, Silverplate, and Sheffield Plate. 


  • Always look for a maker's mark (hallmark) on old silver; these marks can be found in the form of a hallmark (usually indicating English or Continental origin) or a maker' s or company name. Although hallmarks are a good indicator of age and authenticity, be aware that they can & are faked, changed or "put in" from another piece.

  • In dating antique/vintage silver, try to identify the "style" of the silver as this is a useful indicator of the date of manufacture. But remember, as, in furniture styles, silver styles always had their Revivals! 

  • Late 17th c. silver is generally fairly light in weight due to the rather short supply of the metal during that time period; while early 18th c. silver is heavier. 

  • During the 19th c. weight was synonymous with "quality" & therefore there were some very heavy silver pieces made during this period.  

  • Continental silver (of all periods) is usually much more elaborate in design than its English counterparts; American silver was also relatively plain up until the Victorian era (19th c) 

  • When shopping for silver, always be aware that many items were made in "pairs" (i.e. candlesticks) so it is best to avoid buying any silver item that may have, at one time, been part of a set/pair as this will substantially lower its value. 

  • Since around 1300, Britain has had a clear and consistent system of marking silver. British silver will have the following stamps: (a) the sterling or silver standard mark (b) maker's mark (usually in the form of initials) (c) year of manufacture mark (a single letter of the alphabet) (d) assay/town mark (e) duty mark (this was only used from 1784 to 1890 when a duty was levied on silver to help pay for the Revolutionary War. Thus, from this time period, British Sterling will have 5 hallmarks (silver standard, marker's mark, year mark, assay/town mark and duty mark). 

  • When the word "sterling" is found on a piece of silver, this indicates that it is American silver after around 1860 (or, Irish 18th c. silver). 

  • Most European countries had a system of hallmarks for silver which are too numerous to cover here; any good silver hallmark book will have a complete list of all European and British hallmarks. 

  • The European silver standard can often time be "better than sterling" in its silver content, that is it may be more highly alloyed such as 800 or 950. 

  • English and Continental hallmarks can be located on the bottoms of vessels, on edges (foot rings), inside of candle sockets, or on the body (i.e. mugs, coasters). European marks are oftentimes hidden among the elaborate designs on the piece (not so with British hallmarks). Look in every "nook and cranny" for those marks before you decide it is unmarked! 

  • Early American silver (sterling) is very rare; silver that is most easily found today dates after the Civil War. Early American silver was usually marked with only the maker's name or initials (i.e. "Revere" or "PR" in a cartouche) 

  • 19th c. American silver marks may be found in the same form as the early wares but you will also find full "firm" names such as "Gorham & Company". It is not unusual to find pseudo hallmarks on American silver which to the untrained eye look strikingly like British hallmarks. It is best to view them with a magnifying glass. 

  • Pre-industrial period silver will show evidence of being made by hand (i.e. hammer marks on the inside or underside). These marks were not intended to be obvious so they will be more discreet than decorative "hammer" marks that are sometimes found in Arts & Crafts silver. 

  • Teapot handles, from 1714 to about 1830 were generally made of wood, while 19th teapot handles were made of silver; sometimes with Ivory ferrules providing insulating value to the handle. 

  • Antique candlesticks (18th c) were cast (shaft)  in two pieces and soldered together with the shaft than being soldered to a cast base. Therefore, candlesticks of this time period will have a vertical seam on the shaft. 

  • When looking at silverplate you will often find various, sometimes confusing, marks these include: EPNS (electroplated nickel silver), quadruple plate, "A1" & "heavy" plate, all of which are various descriptions of the amount of silver applied. 

  • If you find a piece of silver stamped "Sheffield" or "Sheffield plate", it is Not genuine antique Sheffield plate but an electroplated item made in Sheffield England no earlier than the mid 19th century. 

  • Most genuine Sheffield plate is unmarked, but one can, on occasion, find some pieces with hallmarks similar to those used on sterling. 

  • Genuine hallmarks are struck with steel dies which leave a crisp outline; faked marks are struck with brass dies which have a lack of clarity in the image. 

  • Antique Sheffield plate was the forerunner of today's electroplated silver. Although it is "plated" it was made by fusing sterling sheets to copper which were rolled into sheets &  used to make the items. This Sheffield plate was only made for a short period of time; when around 1840 the electroplating process replaced it. Sheffield plate is very collectible (if in good condition). Note: only Hollowware was made in Sheffield plate as the process did not lend itself to the making of flatware. 

  • Any repair to silver greatly affects its value (unless the piece is extremely rare or has unusual provenance). 

  • Recent repairs to Hollowware will have a bright mat colour, & a solder repair can easily be seen under magnification.

     Beware, Silver is Faked! 

  • Some fakes on today's market include Victorian figural napkin rings (holders), caddy spoons and liquor labels. 

  • When looking for marks on silver items with two pieces (i.e. a lid), the same hallmarks should appear on both pieces! If not it could be a married piece.

  • Stainless steel was developed in the early 1900s and by 1919, it was being used to make knife blades. This is a clue to look for when dating silver handled knives. 


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