Have you recently inherited a silver item and don’t know to interpret the markings on it? Or did you buy a pretty silver piece and would love to add some information on it? This article has everything you need to know, especially if you’re an antique enthusiast.
Every type of silver comes with tiny markings on it, referred to as hallmarks. They tell you everything about the silver that you might need to know. However, since most people don’t know how to read silver hallmarks found on their items, we believe addressing the issue will be helpful.
Besides, silver hallmarks are crucial factors that guide us in identifying antique silver flatware, jewelry, and many other items.
Tips for reading hallmarks on silver
If you didn’t know, hallmarks determine the value of any silver product. Therefore, if you’re one of those struggling to see the markings on their items, you might find these tips pretty helpful. Once you know what you’re looking for, the process will become more straightforward.
1. Clean the item
Since some markings might not be clear, cleaning makes it easier to see. However, when you go shopping for cleaning products, you need to be careful since some brands tend to have harsh chemicals that might damage the metal. If you don’t want to ruin your precious silver gift, you can eliminate any dust using a microfiber towel rather than using harmful soaps.
Some details might remain hidden, but you can use warm water to see whether any lettering or numbers are on the surface. Maybe after a bit of clean-up, you’ll discover a marking that will make you some cash in the end.
2. Research on the silver marking
Different markings have different connotations, and that’s why doing a little research will help you determine the meaning behind them. You will realize that some artisans draw dates on their creations to illustrate when they made them. Also, other artisans put stamps on various pieces for decorative purposes and uniqueness to sell their products.
Hallmarks that are closely related to their origin tend to be more valuable, and you can take them to your nearest antique shop to see how much it’s worth. Typically, the older your item is, the better. So, it all depends on the date.
3. Know the history of silver
If you understand the history of silver flatware and other related things, you will read hallmarks much better. For instance, you can tell which year a duty mark was placed on a piece between 1784 and 1890. Even better, you will be able to tell when the mark was a queen’s or King’s head.
Having this vital information at your fingertips will not only boost your personal identification of silver items but can also become helpful to an antique silver appraisal.
4. Familiarize with common marks
Familiarizing with several common marks that appear on most silver pieces is quite rewarding. For example, the lion passant identifies a product as sterling silver.
If you don’t find this type of mark, the piece is most likely silver-plated. So, how can you find these dates, town marks, letters, and other hallmarks? They are plenty on the internet and various guide books.
Ways to identify silver hallmarks on different pieces
Silver hallmarks can appear anywhere, depending on your silver item. Therefore, if you can’t read all the details, consider using a magnifying glass or cotton to polish the area around the markings gently. However, doing that might be different for various pieces. Here is how you can identify marks on some of them:
All jewelry pieces are different. For that reason, silver marks placement will vary. For instance, jewelers usually stamp hallmarks somewhere on the interior surface, particularly for cuff bracelets and rings. So, you can look at the inside of your item.
If you have pins, pendants and flat jewelry pieces, you can turn them over to see the mark. At their back, there is a tiny clear stamp. For items with silver chains and necklaces, you can check for a mark near the clasp, mostly a small metal tag.
You’ll always find sterling silver and silver-plate flatware with a mark. However, the area of location depends on the type of item you have.
For example, spoons have a mark on the backside of the handle, and forks will feature hallmarks near the wider portion or shoulders. Other serving pieces and knives may have a stamp on the ferrule, or the area surrounding the handle
Dishes and large pieces
Would you like to find hallmarks on large pieces like dresser sets, bowls, and trays? It’s pretty straightforward because most dishes, including silver teapots, trays and bowls, have hallmarks at the bottom. Also, this applies to decorative pieces like figurines, candlesticks and vases.
For personal care things like mirrors, hairbrushes and other dresser set items, they might have a stamp on the handle or the base.
Common sterling silver hallmarks
If you didn’t know, silver is a soft metal, and manufacturers never use it alone. They use 92.5% of sterling silver and 7.5% of other metals like nickel and copper.
For many years now, silversmiths have been stamping their creations to identify them as sterling silver. The hallmarks and stamps they use depend on the manufacturer, time, and location.
In case you come across sterling silver, here are the most common hallmarks:
- Sterling silver
- “92.5% pure”
- A lion with a single raised paw or lion passant
- Crowned harp
- Thistle mark
Common silver-plate hallmarks
When it comes to silver-plated items, they feature a thin coating of pure silver and base metal. In most cases, these pieces do not have a mark. Hence, if your pieces do not indicate their metal content through markings, they are likely to silver-plate. You might, however, encounter these marks in rare cases:
- “EP” meaning electroplated
- “EPNS” standing for electroplated nickel silver
- BP, which means Britannia plate
- EPBM meaning electroplated Britannia metal
Which are the most famous hallmarks by country?
Are you curious to know whether your silver jewelry is American or British? There is an array of symbols that silversmiths use to help you figure out the origin of different jewelry pieces. Take a look at the following most popular hallmarks by country to understand where your precious pieces come from:
- American: Silver jewelry made in the USA bears the purity mark, mostly the simplest of all silvers. You might as well come across an American-made silver item that features the maker’s stamp.
- British (Irish, Scottish, and English): When you start reading hallmarks, at some point, you’ll realize that British jewelry hallmarks are one of the most complex stamps. You know why? They are antiques, with over 700 years.
Also, they have an origin mark of the country and town, a standard quality mark, a date letter, and a maker’s mark. Isn’t that a lot to decode? Of course, one will need to understand the history of UK hallmarks to make it much easier.
- Mexican: If you have Mexican silver jewelry, its hallmark is pretty straightforward with an obvious stamp of “Made in Mexico” or “Mexico”. Also, you might see city name or region hallmarks on Mexican-made silver jewelry, which you’ll find quite helpful.
- European (Austrian, German, French, Italian, etc.): Silversmiths from Europe use purity mark to indicate the content of their silver. Also, they add a town mark, date letter, and a unique signature mark to help you know the origin.
- Scandinavian (Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, etc.): While every Scandinavian country is slightly different, their silver features a purity mark. Swedish silversmiths stamp items with a town name and date. On the contrary, Danish and Norwegians use signature hallmarks.
What to be aware of when reading hallmarks
When buying silver, you’ll come across fake hallmarks that are purposely designed to mislead the customer. So, you need to be fully aware. For instance, antique pieces made of sterling silver should not have other words like “sterling inlaid”. Instead, it should only be “sterling”.
Always check for quality marks that we have mentioned above. If it is pure silver, then most countries will ensure there is an official stamp. But what if I can’t tell what’s real or fake? There is a way to test the purity of your antique silver. Also, you can consider getting your collectables from a certified refiner or a reputable dealer.
Studying silver hallmarks is very beneficial because they are critical in identifying antique items. They give you details about the age, value, history and silver content of your silver piece. So, if you don’t know to read those hallmarks on your treasure, you’ll find the above tips and how to identify different items’ marks pretty helpful.
Even better, understanding the standard sterling silver and silver-plated hallmarks will make it easier to figure out those details on your treasure. Did you find this article helpful? Please let us know by leaving a comment down below. Also, if you can now read silver hallmarks, we would love to hear from you about your experience.