Silver and silver plate can look almost identical at first glance. Even weighing items will not necessarily enable you to tell the difference between the two. Silver is more valuable than silver plate in nearly all cases, although there are notable exceptions. However, most genuine silverware carries distinct markings that let you know when it was made and where. These marks--known as hallmarks--can help you determine whether you are holding silver or silver plate. Using hallmarks and checking for other visual signs can help you distinguish silver from silver plate.
Check for any green marks, yellow metal areas or red metal appearing through the silver. These can all be signs of silver plate as the plate begins to wear down to reveal the copper or other metal beneath.
Locate any hallmarks on the silver object. Hallmarks are small stamps, either pictures or words, usually found on the underside or the bottom of an item. If the item does not have any hallmarks, it is almost certainly silver plate and not silver.
Check for the Lion Passant hallmark. This is a hallmark depicting a lion walking from right to left. If this is present, the silver item is likely to be English sterling silver.
Look for the letters "EPNS" or "EPBM." If these letters appear anywhere on the item, the object is silver plate.
Look for the word "Sterling" marked on the silver object. This is another hallmark denoting silver. Sometimes American silver is hallmarked "Coin Silver." This is another mark of sterling silver.
Search for any marks that read "800," "850," "900" or "925." This is a mark for silver from continental European countries, such as France.
Consult a hallmark guide for any other marks found on the item. Guides can be picked up from book stores or antique dealers. Examples of popular guides include "Bradbury's Book of Hallmarks" and "Miller's Silver and Plate Antiques Checklist."
Some plate silver is very desirable. Old Sheffield Plate, for example, commands high prices at 2010 auctions.