I am often asked the most basic question of all, "Is there a way to know if the piece I have (or wish to purchase) is sterling silver or silver plate?".
Yes Virginia, there is a way. Sterling silver is comprised of 92.5% silver and 7.7% some other metal. Often you will see the numbers "925" on the back of the piece. This is an indication it is sterling.
Also, you should see the word "Sterling" or the letter "S" or letter "SS" stamped on the back. Usually a sterling silver piece will have one of these marks on it. Beware of "SP", for that indicates Silverplate and therefore is not sterling. Often "Silverplate" or "Silverplated" may be stamped on the back of such a piece.
If all else fails, try a strong magnet. Sterling Silver will not stick to a magnet. If what you have is attracted to the magnet, chances are it is not the real thing.
I hope these tips help.
I usually carry a small jeweler's loop with me when I go looking for sterling pieces. The markings on the back are very hard to read without some magnification. It also helps to be familiar with the manufactures' markings which can be very confusing because there are so many. Some companies have several markings they have used over the years. There are reference books that will help you with the markings. However, finding a piece in a pattern that you do not recognize and only having the manufacturers markings to go by can be a proverbial needle in a haystack. It helps to be familiar with the markings of the more popular companies so you at least can identify a piece as possibly among one of them and go from there.
The Story Behind this Blog
Being from the South, Silver is a very big part of my life. It doesn't have anything to do with wealth. Although those with more money - old money, tend to have more of it. New money tend not to spend their money on Silver. They do not have the appreciation for the warmth of the metal, the beauty of the patina, the story it tells of the generations past who have used it. A true southern girl comes of age when she chooses her silver pattern, long before she chooses her mate. If she is smart, she chooses that of her mother, grandmother, or favorite great aunt who in their benevolence will pass their silver on to her. It is the pieces in those sets, the pieces on our tables, along with the pieces we find in the corners of the displays in antique stores that prompted me to start this blog. They are beautiful, they are odd, but what are they, and what in the hell do you do with them?