Pattern refers to the design and style of sterling silver flatware. This nearly always means the stems of spoons and forks, but does not include knives which are classed as cutlery. Sterling is a grade of silver that's 92.5 per cent pure. Anything less than that and it's a lower grade or a plate silver item. Patterns range from elaborate swirls and engravings to simple lines and plain faces. Combine information on pattern type and hallmarks to identify a sterling silver flatware pattern.
Search for marks on the flatware item. Look for the digits "925" or "Sterling," commonly found on sterling silver items, particularly those from the U.S. Use a magnifying glass if necessary.
Look for other distinguishing hallmarks before checking the pattern to establish that the item is genuine sterling silver. Examples include a lion mark alongside three other symbols for English sterling, and a cockerel or the head of the Roman goddess Minerva for French silver. Hundreds of hallmarks exist, so consult a reliable book on silver marks, such as "International Hallmarks on Silver: Collected by Tardy," or the 925-1000 hallmark website.
Note the maker, location and date of your item where possible from the information gathered during research. This makes it easier to look up any pattern information you notice.
Check the connecting point between the stem and the spoon bowl or fork curve. This often gives clues to the pattern. For example, if the stem is raised on the bowl or curve, tapering to a fine point, it may be the rattail pattern. This pattern dates from the eighteenth century.
View the shape of the top end of the stem. For example, a stem with an oar-shaped end is likely to be the fiddle pattern, one of the most common designs in the nineteenth century, particularly for English silver.
Consult the 925-1000 list of flatware patterns. You'll find a comprehensive list of most shapes and styles. Compare your items to those displayed. You should be able to find a close match.
Take your flatware items to a specialist. Antique dealers can often identify the most obscure of patterns, or will point you in the direction of someone who can. Auction houses will usually both identify and value your items for free, particularly if you suggest that the items may be put up for sale via their establishment.
Clean the area around your hallmark with silver cleaning fluid if you can't see it clearly.