Many antique silverware pieces are extremely valuable, and most pieces carry a hallmark verifying the silver's purity. Some pieces carry simple hallmarks guaranteeing silver content, but many have additional marks depicting the item's history. The hallmark movement started in Europe, and in 1478, the British hallmark act made it mandatory for all items made of silver to carry specific marks identifying manufacturing details. Because similar standards were adopted elsewhere, you can trace the history of most rare collector pieces of fine silverware and flatware if you have the correct reference material.
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Things you need
- Powerful magnifying glass
Locate the hallmark on the piece of silverware or flatware. The mark usually is stamped on the back of the utensil or on the lower rim of a knife handle.
Examine the hallmark through a powerful magnifying glass, such as a jeweller's loupe. If the piece is marked with the words "sterling silver" or any combination of their abbreviation, such as "STG," "Sil" or "Stg silver," or the image of a rampant lion, then the piece contains 92.5 per cent silver. The rest is made up of metal such as copper, germanium, zinc or platinum to improve the alloy's ductility, hardness and resistance to tarnishing.
Consult a suitable reference book or website to trace the item's history. For example, British sterling silver usually carries five marks: standard mark guaranteeing the silver content, city mark, one-of-a-kind date letter, duty mark showing the profile of the reigning monarch and the maker's mark identifying the manufacturing silversmith.
Follow manufacturing trends via reference works outlining the developing styles of famous silversmiths over the centuries. From 1840 and the invention of stainless steel to about 1940, for example, "setting a proper table" with sterling silver flatware and holloware was obligatory among fashionable members of society. Consequently, talented silversmiths achieved cultlike status by controlling silverware fashion trends throughout that period.
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