How To Tell Sterling Silver from Plated



So you’re cleaning up, getting rid of things – time to get rid of grandma’s silver – how do you know it’s the real thing. Here’s the test.

Does it have the word “Sterling” on it? That’s the best test of all. Not the word “silver” – that’s not good. Only the word “Sterling.”

Anything else is NOT sterling silver. Community Plate? Not Sterling. Oneida? Probably not sterling (unless it’s 80+ years old) American Silver Company? Not sterling. It MUST, MUST MUST have the word “Sterling” on the stem of the silverware or around the handle of the knives. Even plates, bowls, and hollow ware (pitchers and teas sets) will have the word “Sterling” somewhere on it.

I’ve included a few photos to show where you can look for the word sterling when you pull grandma’s dusty old silverware from the attic. In each case, these are the most common places you’ll see it, but this is by no means a carved-in-stone, end all, be all list. This is where the words are commonly found. But do yourself a favor. Look all over the items…every single one will have the word sterling on it. So look in these places first, then look some more…if you don’t see the word sterling and it’s not a couple hundred years old…it’s probably not sterling silver.

Sterling is only 92.5% silver anyway…it’s not pure. About 7.5% copper is added to the mixture to ensure that it isn’t so soft that it bends when used or dropped on the floor. It gives the silver, which is generally a softer metal, some rigidity.

Generally speaking, at today’s prices, dinner forks are about $15-$20, salad forks are $10-$15, smalls spoons a bit less. Knives are $5-$7 because the blade is almost always stainless steel and just the handle is sterling…and it’s hollow. Usually the hollow handle is filled with a resin that hardens as it cools and serves to hold the blade in the handle but also to give it substantial weight so that it doesn’t feel flimsy or cheap.

But almost universally, knife handles are hollow. Sometimes they’re even filled with lead on very old sets.

So you can figure $700-$1000 for a 12-person, 8-piece setting depending on the thickness of the handles, the pattern, etc.

If you have questions about your silver, please feel free to call me at 832-259-7225