January 19, 2023

Over the course of our lives, it’s so easy to accumulate boxes, bags, and trunks of things. It’s natural to want to stow items away — whether it’s clothing, books, albums, dinnerware, tools, and beyond — thinking that we’ll need them at a later date.

But as the years go by, most of us eventually forget the contents of even the most important boxes we’ve been holding onto — maybe for decades.

If a holiday, New Year’s resolution, major move, or a simple need to declutter has inspired your current purge, it’s almost certain you’re going to encounter boxes like these in your basement, closet, garage, or attic.

But while uncovering the usual assortment of stored items, you might be surprised to come across pieces of potential value. These might include genuine silver and silver plated items. Furthermore, you might be astonished to find out how much these goods are worth today.

Here at Muzeum, we help people find an accurate value for their treasures, both new and recently rediscovered. If you do want to cash in on your silver, we can provide a free evaluation where we’ll discuss the authenticity and value of the piece. We’ll then make sure you get the best possible purchase price.

Through our many years in business, we have formed an extensive network of buyers and sellers. Through this engaged network, we can find interested parties for the items that you bring to us so that you can get the absolute best value for your silver jewellery, coins, bullion and more. We're your best resource for determining if you have genuine silver, which can be challenging to determine on your own.

Some Items Where You May See Silver or Silver Plating

Silver and silver plating are often used in the fabrication of the following wares:

  • Jewellery, such as necklaces, earrings, bracelets, brooches, and hat pins.
  • Tea sets, which may include a teapot, sugar bowl, milk jug, creamer jug and stirrers.
  • Silver flatware, like a complete 45-piece cutlery set composed of spoons, knives, and forks.
  • You may even come across an old coin collection if you're lucky. Coin collections are always extremely exciting for buyers, sellers and collectors.

While the optimist in us might want to believe every silver piece we find is genuine silver, that might not necessarily be the case. Silver plated items are very convincing.

Fortunately, there are several ways for you to test your silver flatware, jewellery, tea sets and coins — including searching for hallmarks and utilizing the power of magnets.

Before we explain what these are, what is silver plating?

A vintage silver earring and a vintage silver ring sitting on a white ribbon.

What Exactly Is Silver Plating?

Silver plating is precisely as it sounds: a less valuable metal coated in genuine silver to give the illusion of an authentic solid silver piece. Lesser-valued materials that often get coated in silver plating are metals like copper, aluminum, nickel silver, titanium, and steel. Sometimes, even porcelain and glass are coated in silver plating.

This practice dates back to approximately 1740. The earliest form of silver plating on record was created by a cutler (i.e., a person who makes cutlery), Thomas Boulsover. Boulsover fused thin sheets of silver to the top layer of a more affordable metal to create a malleable plate.

At this time, the majority of fusion plates were made in Sheffield in the United Kingdom. Because of this, the product itself was given the name Old Sheffield Plate. Many of these silver-plated pieces were marked with early hallmarks, which caused much confusion among makers and buyers alike, as hallmarks were usually reserved for actual silver items.

In 1773, The London Silversmiths filed an injunction to put this act of falsification to a halt. However, they were rejected in their bid, and users of silver plating were still allowed to mark their wares with a new stipulation: the mark had to show the marker’s name.

Today, electroplating — a slightly more scientific process — is more commonly used when silver plating items. This involves passing an electrical current between electrodes in a conductive bath (i.e., an electrolyte). When electricity hits the bath, silver atoms get a positive charge, split from the solution and get layered onto negatively charged electrodes of the substance that is getting plated.

There are many benefits of using silver plating. It’s resistant to corrosion, it’s easy to solder, and it’s relatively affordable. Silver plating is often used in electronics (it offers little electrical resistance and high conductivity), generators and in the finishing of jewellery, accessories, cutlery, and other kitchen accessories.

While silver plating has its benefits and it can look authentic, it does not have the same worth or resell value as genuine, pure silver.

A Brief History of Silver

Silver is processed by first removing silver ore from the earth — ore is the rock that holds valuable metals. Once the ore is removed, it gets broken down and then flushed for silver.

There’s evidence of silver mining dating back to 3,000 BC in Anatolia (i.e., Asia Minor — this location currently constitutes modern-day Turkey). The demand for silver later increased thanks to better techniques and an understanding of how to successfully source and process this precious metal. The quest for silver sent Spanish fleets worldwide as silver coins became a crucial tool in trade.

Silver production hit its peak in Nevada in the United States in the 1870s. At the end of the 19th century, over 120 million troy ounces of silver were produced each year.

Up to a more recent period, in the early 1960s, silver mining hit a slump in the United States, forcing the American government to halt using silver in its coin production.

Today, Mexico, China, and Peru are the top global silver producers.

A wooden tabletop that’s filled with a variety of tapered candle stick holders all different heights and shapes

How to Test Your Silver with a Magnet at Home

There are several methods for testing silver jewellery and other pieces of silver that you might have at home. But the ultimate way to conduct an at-home check would be to do the magnet test. For this, you'll need to find a powerful magnet. Most hardware stores stock earth magnets, which can do the job.

Place the item in question on a wooden (or non-magnetic) surface and slowly draw the magnet closer to the piece. If the item is attracted to the magnet, it's unlikely that it’s real silver. If the item is indifferent to the draw of the magnet, you potentially have an item that's made from genuine silver.

As a rule, precious metals like silver and gold are not magnetic.

For necklaces and bracelets, or any item with a clasp, the clasp might not be made of silver, but the rest of the chain and pendant may be. Test the magnet on all areas of the jewellery to be sure.

That said, there is the possibility that the item in question could be made from another non-magnetic metal like copper, brass, or lead. Brass is often used in silver plated items and can give false results.

Look for a Hallmark to Determine Authenticity

If you can’t work with a magnet, you can attempt to verify that you’ve got an authentic piece of silver with some additional methods.

First, look for a hallmark. A hallmark is stamped on most authentic silver pieces that are set for retail. They're usually located on the underside of handles, on the inside of a ring, or on the tag of a necklace. Some hallmarks will include extra embellishments like a logo or symbol.

A hallmark stamp may indicate the purity of the silver; for example, it might say ‘Ster’ (or a similar variant), which indicates sterling silver, or it might say .925, which means that 92.5% of the metal is pure silver. The rest is a different alloy metal (usually copper) which gives the piece extra hardiness and durability.

Look for the maker’s mark. Almost like an artist signing their painting, silversmiths will often mark their work with their initials or the stamp for the studio that they work for.

Other Ways of Identifying Silver and Silver Plating

As discussed, silver plating can look a great deal like real silver. A few additional ways to identify silver plating and electroplated items are to:

  • See if any areas of silver are peeling or flaking off. You might need a magnifying glass to do this.
  • Check for a green or red discolouration anywhere on the piece. A red tint may indicate that the layer beneath the silver plating is actually copper.
  • Check for a hallmark. There will be no hallmark on a silver plated piece, or there will be a mark that outright signifies the piece is electroplated. Marks to denote electroplating may read: EP (electro-plated), EPNS (electroplated nickel silver), EPBM (electroplated Britannia metal) or BP (Britannia plate).
  • Lastly, see if the piece emits a smell. If you can smell sulphur or a strong metallic scent, the piece may be silver plated, as genuine sterling silver should not emit any aroma.

For an Accurate Result: Consult with a Professional

With such room for error, we always recommend bringing the pieces in question to a silver buyer like Muzeum for absolute verification. We offer an in-person evaluation of your pieces, where we utilize XRF technology to help ascertain the true purity and value of your silver pieces.

To guarantee our clients get the best possible value for their pieces, we have our finger on the pulse regarding the price of silver; our website is updated hourly to reflect market value.

We pride ourselves on transparent, genuine customer service. If you've found an item you think may be valuable, come by and chat with a member of our knowledgeable team.

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