Buying silver candlesticks or a silver tea set at an estate sale can be a challenge if you do not know how to determine whether it is sterling silver or silver plated. Many people often end up buying silver plated items instead of sterling silver treasures.
Silver plating came up as an inexpensive way for customers who could not afford sterling. Unfortunately, some sellers found it as a way to swindle customers who cannot tell the difference. There is a huge difference between sterling silver and silver plated, and this guide will help you differentiate between the two the next time you visit an estate sale.
Sterling silver always has one or more of these Hallmarks: “sterling silver,” “.925,” or “Lion” hallmark. If the items do not have any of these markings, then it’s probably a silver plated piece. Sterling silver has 92.5% silver content and a density of approximately 10.3 g/cm3. Testing the actual density requires experience. However, you can tell by bouncing the items and letting them hit your palm.
Here are several ways to know if your silver is sterling:
- Sterling silver has a sweet smell while silver plated items will have a sour, acrid smell when tarnished. However, if the items are freshly polished, it becomes hard to tell the difference in scent.
- To differentiate sterling silver from silver plated pieces, you can use your hands or any other body part to feel the texture. Sterling usually has a smooth surface. Rub the surface of the item with your thumb several times, with varying force. Sterling silver will feel more slippery than silver plated.
- The look of the item is one of the main and most reliable elements of checking for genuine silver items. Once you are at an estate sale, look for wear spots on the items as they are usually the first indicator of silver plated items. One wear spot is enough to confirm that the item is silver plated.
- XRR (X-Ray Reflectivity) is one of the best methods of determining if an item is a sterling silver or silver plated. However, the ERF machines are expensive and not readily available. The machines give accurate details of the silver content in the item and do not cause any damage to the silver. Many metal yards have the hand-held models and can test for you before you purchase any item.
- This is the oldest method, and it involves applying acid to the item. Pure and sterling silver will not change the color of the acid. The method though will cause permanent damage to plated items.
- Another way of differentiating is by cleaning the item with a soft cloth. Sterling silver will always leave some black marks on the cloth caused by oxidation. However, this does not happen with silver plated items.
Sterling silver is a beautiful, valuable and durable material. On the contrary, silver plated items usually have little intrinsic value. Most sterling silver items are marked. However, if you suspect that an item is silver plated, you can always conduct a few test. If the item passes the tests, you are on the right path to verifying your item as sterling silver.
Good luck and happy hunting!! Nothing beats finding beautiful sterling silver at a great price.