The myriad of sterling silver items in your home may be endless: sugar castors, liqueur tags, flatware, hollowware, Native American jewelry, frames; the list could go on.
You will need bright lighting and a magnifying glass or a jeweler’s loupe. Standard grade jeweler’s loupes will give you a significant advantage when looking at your marks.
Here’s a list of where to start looking:
Hollowware: Check underneath the body of the piece as well as along the outer rim of the base.
Flatware: Look on the handle shafts, as well as where the knife handles and blades meet. Please note that your knife blades may say stainless, referring to the blade only. The handle may be sterling.
Jewelry: Rings: Look on the inside of the shank. Pins: Check the back, as well as the clasp and shaft. Stickpins: The marks are very small, on shaft and/or back. Necklaces: Check the clasp and large chain links first. Earrings: Check the back and posts. Watches: Look inside and on the back of the face case.
American items typically have two marks: one mark indicating the purity of the metal, and one mark indicating the maker. This is a broad guideline. You may also see a retailer’s mark, two purity marks (on mixed metal items), or a pattern name, just to name a few. Let’s concentrate on the two most common marks, the hallmark of the maker, and the purity of the silver.
First, find out the purity of the silver. If your piece is American, then it will likely be sterling silver, coin silver, or silver plated (which would likely be marked by the letters EPNS). If your item is not marked as sterling or coin silver, it still may be so. You can take it to someone that tests silver. To accurately test silver, a small filing typically has to be made. This is why I would suggest having an experienced dealer test it, as they will be careful not tofile the silver in an area that weakens your piece or depreciates its value.
Next, you’ll need to find identify the maker. Stay tuned as we will be tackling that in next week’s blog post.