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I am amazed at the number of people who can’t tell the difference between Sterling Silver and Silverplate. There is a huge value difference and, if you don’t know how to tell one from the other, be prepared to be taken advantage of when you decide to sell.

Pure Silver is 99.9% pure and is typically used only in silver bars & ingots. Because pure silver is so soft and malleable it must be mixed with another metal to strengthen it, usually copper or tin. Sterling Silver is always 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% other base metal. Never more and never less. If it says “Sterling,” is has to be 92.5% pure silver.

Here are ten ways to tell if it’s “Sterling Silver” or some similar silver fineness.

It should be Sterling Silver if either of these markings appear anywhere on the flatware or decorative accessories:

•  Sterling: If it says “Sterling” it will be 92.5% pure silver

•  925: If it says “925” it’s Sterling and 92.5% pure silver

Periodically different silver standards were implemented in the United States and Great Britain:

•  Britannia Silver: If it says “958” or “Britannia” it’s usually “Britannia Silver” which is 95.8% pure silver and the remainder is usually copper

•  Coin Silver: If it says “900” or “Coin” it’s usually “Coin Silver” and 90.0% pure silver. Coin Silver was often made by melting coins that were 90% silver

Countries other than the United States and Great Britain often used some other silver fineness, such as:

•  950: If it says “950” it will be 95.0% pure silver and may be from France, Mexico, or some other country

•  Mexican Sterling: Depending on where made in Mexico, this may be marked “950”, “925” or “900”

•  830: If it says “830” it will be 83% pure silver and is often from Scandinavia

•  850 or 800: Either number could mean Germany or some other country.

Just because it’s unmarked doesn’t mean that it can’t be Sterling. Although a marking will usually identify Sterling, sometimes unmarked silver can be identified through “Acid Testing”: This is a very simple process and any Jeweler or “We Buy Gold” store can test it. We can test it for you as well.

Here are several other tips

•  Weight: Sterling is typically lighter and more flexible than Silverplate.

•  Company Name: The presence of a company name such as “Gorham” does not automatically indicate Sterling because such companies often made both Sterling and Silverplate items.

•  Hallmarks: These do not always indicate Sterling and were used by some companies to provide added perceived value or as part of a company logo.

Beware: Just because something is marked “Sterling” or “925” does not guarantee its authenticity. We are seeing an increasing number of fake items with fake marks and it may be necessary to cut through the outer silver layer and then “Acid Test” to confirm its originality and fineness. Most fakes seem to be coming from China.

WHAT’S IT WORTH: We once had a client that brought us a Rubbermaid tub filled with silver-type items. We sorted the contents in three categories: Sterling - Silverplate - Pewter. We sent them home with the Silverplate and Pewter and suggested that they sell it at a garage sale. We sold the Sterling for nearly $5,000. The point here is that one-half of a Rubbermaid tub of Sterling brought close to $5,000. If you need help identifying and selling your precious metals, call us at 215-264-4304. We can identify it, estimate value, and then sell it for you using our product knowledge and extensive list of reputable contacts. And we’ll always get more for you than you’ll get on your own. Guaranteed.

Mike Ivankovich is an Auctioneer, Appraiser, Home Downsizing Expert, and host of the "What's It Worth? Ask Mike the Appraiser" Radio Show. Now in its 5th year, “What’s It Worth” airs live in the Philadelphia PA area on Friday mornings from 9:30-10:30 AM EST on WBCB 1490 AM, and on the Internet at:. You can also visit his Radio Show Web Site: www.AskMikeTheAppraiser.com  If your local station doesn’t carry “What’s It Worth” tell them they need to add it to their programing mix. If you know anyone who needs any Personal Property Appraisal work, or if you need a Speaker for an upcoming meeting or event, call Mike at (215)-264-4304, or visit: www.michaelivankovichappraisals.com