Nov 09, 2010 09:51PM
● By Anonymous
Whatever you decide to do with your silver, before you acquire more or divest yourself of what you own, evaluate what your silver is worth. The first step to acquiring that knowledge is to learn where to look and how to decipher the marks on a piece that may be sterling, coin, continental, or silver plate. Sterling means a piece is 925/1000 parts silver. In 1860, sterling silver became the standard for describing silver items. The marks used were sterling, Sterling Weighted, and 925/1000. Coin silver, created during the colonial period, generally contained 900/1000 parts silver. It was often stamped as being coin, pure coin, standard premium, or dollars. Sometimes the letter C or D was used. Coin has a lower silver content than sterling. However, coin silver crafted by certain early silversmiths can be far more valuable than sterling, due to its age, provenance, rarity, and quality. The content of continental varies but is generally less than that of both sterling and coin. Continental means the item was made on “the Continent”: Europe. If it is marked 800 fine, it contains 800 parts per 1000.
Antique English silver is marked with hallmarks. London’s Goldsmiths’ Hall of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths is credited with being the originator of Britain’s first hallmarks. They still maintain a record of all British hallmarks. There is usually a series of four or five stamps on the back of a piece of cutlery or the bottom of an object such as a silver pitcher. A hallmark of a full lion looking toward the left indicates that the item is sterling. The next hallmark is a letter within a shield or cartouche. This hallmark designates the year the piece was made. The third hallmark usually contains the maker’s initials. The fourth hallmark, the guild mark, should tell where the piece was made. A leopard’s head signifies that the article was crafted in London; an anchor signifies that it was made in Birmingham. At the library or local bookstore you can find a number of books to help you look up hallmarks. Early American silver uses similar looking marks, including the maker’s initials. By the late 19th century, American articles were stamped with the name of the manufacturing company and possibly the silver pattern. Many handsome items are not sterling or coin but are instead silver plated. The mark EP may fool some into believing it stands for a company or the initials of the maker, but EP actually stands for electroplate, a process wherby electric magnetization deposits a thin layer of silver on top of white metal or copper. Triple or quadruple plate refers to items that are plated with multiple layers of silver.
Hallmarks are placed on the back or bottom of a piece of silver.
There is something very captivating about genuine silver items—and, yes, they are associated with wealth and luxury, ergo the phrase that signifies someone was born into wealth: “He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.” When eating with silver utensils you notice they have a nice heft and weight, and often a lovely engraved and embossed decoration. But silver does require care. It’s important not to leave the residue of silver polish on silver items. And when you wash your silver, dry it thoroughly. Never wrap silver in plastic cling wrap. The plastic may contain chemicals that react with the silver and cause permanent discoloration.
If you never use your silver or admire it on display, by all means recycle it. Give it to a member of your family or a favorite charity, or sell it through an online auction, to a local silver dealer, or through a local consignment shop. At press time, silver was selling for $18.58 per ounce. Particularly if items are broken or damaged, it might be advantageous to sell your silver so that it can be used for something else. That is what recycling is all about.