Our illustrated guide highlights the subtle ways you can discover the origins of any piece of silver.

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One of the most common inquiries at antique shows often has to do with authenticity: How do you know whether or not something is made of real silver? Collectors aren't always looking for pure sterling silver, per se, but they should be able to know the value and composition of the pieces they're buying. Most of the time, you can find the information you're looking for by simply taking a closer look at the teaspoon, fish fork, ice cream saw, or cheese scoup that you're eyeing. More often than not, you can find an indented mark (or a series of marks) that can tell you a lot about the item: what it's made of, where it was made, when, and by whom.

The Five Most Popular Silver Varieties

You can find many different kinds of silver in the marketplace today. Some of the oldest American silver is "coin," which contains at least 89.2 percent of silver if it was made between 1792 to 1837, an amount set by the U.S. Mint after the American Revolution-which rose to 90 percent in the years after 1837. Sterling, on the other hand, must be at least 92.5 percent silver. This standard-92.5 parts pure silver to 7.5 parts copper alloy, which strengthens softer silver-was established by the English during the 12th century and later adopted by most of the silver-making world, including the United States in 1868. Many people think of coin as much less valuable than sterling, but it has only about two percent less silver and, in some rare cases, may even contain more. Because of its age and beauty, a piece made from coin can sometimes be worth more than American sterling.

Silver plate is a coating of pure silver on a base metal such as copper or nickel silver (an alloy of nickel, copper, and zinc) and was developed later than sterling or coin, but various forms date to the 18th century. Electroplating processes were invented in England in the 1830s and 1840s; this method is still used today. "Hotel" silver is a form of electroplate that was manufactured for use in trains, on ships, in restaurants, and hotels. You can dent a sterling sugar bowl very easily-but a similar piece of hotel silver can be dropped without much harm because the underlying base metal is stronger than its silver exterior.

Certain alloys, referred to as Venetian silver and Nevada silver, consist of nickel and silver. Although they're solid metal rather than plated, they contain less silver than sterling pieces. These lower-grade compounds are less expensive than silver-plated items, but don't polish up as easily.

Common Silver Marks

England's system of hallmarks-a variety of official emblems stamped on silver to illustrate its purity-is one of the oldest and most detailed. Laws dating to the 14th century established strict requirements for marking silver; the first emblem was a crowned lion's head to certify sterling, which are all stamped in a row. If you find a lion on your piece, you'll immediately know that it's come from Britain. Symbols for where it was made include an anchor for Birmingham and a crown for Sheffield (in 1975, it changed to a rose). Another mark is the head of the reigning monarch. And a letter stamp tells you when it was made: Each year is assigned one letter of the alphabet, and a new cycle starts with a different font. Until the 1500s, the symbol for the silversmith was often a plant or an animal suggesting the family name. Today, initials are used.

American marks weren't enforced as systematically and were therefore never as elaborate. Early coin silver was often marked with the maker's name, and nothing else; sometimes it doesn't show even that. Eventually, manufacturers also started using the word "coin." But after the Civil War, silversmiths continued to stamp their own names on the back, along with the word "sterling" or the number 92.5 or 925, all of which indicate sterling quality. Some companies used symbols as a commercial logo. The Gorham company's mark was a row of three emblems: a lion (for sterling), an anchor (for its base in Rhode Island), and a "G" (its initial).

Silver plate has its own codes in the United States and abroad. The maker or company name is usually stamped on the back of the piece along with an indication that it's plated: In America, for instance, these marks are A1, AA, EP, or the full phrases "sterling inlaid", or "silver soldered." According to industry standards, AA has one-third as much silver used in plating as does A1 pieces. It's important to note that seeing the word "sterling" doesn't mean it's automatically a true sterling silver piece.

Most silver experts refer to three different tomes for guideance: Ralph and Terry Kovel's American Silver Marks ($43, amazon.com); Ian Pickford's Antique Collectors' Club ($15 e-text, amazon.com); and Tere Hagan's Silverplated Flatware (starting at $8, amazon.com). These three texts often serve as a good starting point for those who wish to learn more about the history of silver production. While a book can be a great aid, the best tool for anyone looking for silver is a compact jeweler's loupe, which is a small magnification device that you can use to inspect miniscule details.

The images below will help guide you through the most common silver marks you'll find-and how to decipher each of them.

American Solid Silver

Early U.S. silver is often simply marked "coin," which is pictured below.

"S. Brown" manufactured this sterling piece, as indicated by the stamp, but the hallmarks that follow are actually bogus, as they imitate the English system because of its cachet in the marketplace.

On the back of this sterling fork, the lion, anchor, and "G" identify the Gorham company.

On a spoon handle marked with the maker Crosby, Honnewell, and Morse is the number 925-which is a code for sterling.

Nonsterling American Marks

A wide range of symbols were used by U.S. manufacturers to designate silver plating and solid lower-grade alloys in the marketplace.

A1 and AA: These discreet markings indicate the number of ounces of pure silver used in the plating. There's two ounces per gross of teaspoons for A1, and three ounces for AA.

EPNS: Electroplated nickel silver, commonly known as "EPNS", is an alloy of nickel, copper, and zinc that's covered with a layer of pure silver in an electrochemical process. Nickel's resemblance to silver helps disguise any worn spots that develop over time.

Venetian Silver: This flatware is made of a blend of silver and base metals is solid, not plated, but has a much lower silver content than either sterling or coin.

Treble Plate: This stamp means that three layers of silver plating were applied to a base metal during manufacturing.

Hotel: A few big companies, such as Oneida, produced large orders of silver plate for hotels in the 19th century.

Silver Soldered: This is another way of signifying that the piece is silver-plated.

Sterling Inlaid: Advertising itself as sterling, this mark for a silver plate piece can be deceptive and misleading.

International Silver

Experts at Sotheby's auction house report that markings vary by country-and submissions from potential auctioneers require considerable research just to determine whether a piece is sterling. We're sharing a few examples of confounding silver marks from across the globe below.

Early Asian sterling is marked with Asian characters. This sterling spoon from the former British colony of Hong Kong, however, is obviously geared toward English speakers.

This piece from Warsaw, Poland proclaims its origin-but says nothing about its silver content.

On the right, the slash marks on the back of this spoon identify the piece as German, and another clue is the shield with the eagle.

On the other hand, 90 is a standard marking for silver plate, and this is located on the bottom of the spoon's handle.

The number 800 (bottom) is a common notation for silver in Russia. The one pictured, however, is a German .800 silver mark, depicting a crown and crescent moon along with the maker's mark of WTB-for manufacturer Wilhelm Binder.

This sterling spoon bears the hallmarks for Scotland, which is the thistle, and for Edinburgh, marked using the castle, as well as the profile of George III.

The information in these Italian examples is hard to decipher: IAB is a signifier for pure sterling, although not all Italian sterling carries that mark.

French silver almost always has marks placed on the top of the piece because tables are set with bowls of spoons and tines of forks facing downward.

These straightforward marks on this piece of Danish silver identify that it's sterling, it was made in Copenhagen, and the silversmith, H. Nils.

Comments (40)

Anonymous
April 28, 2020
Can anyone tell me who the manufacturer is for this serving fork. It is stamped twice Sterling and the only other clue I have is (PAT APR 1 13)
Anonymous
March 23, 2020
I have silverware with the original Rogers on it is it real silver.also have other types of silverware with is on it and other markings.abd also what does plate stand for does that mean it's not real silver.
Anonymous
March 23, 2020
I have a candle holder with markings 1163 on it is it real silver
Anonymous
June 18, 2019
Hi! I found a silver gravy boat and it has three symbols on it but no words. There is a dragon/ serpent facing right, a C, and a pheasant facing left. Any idea if it’s more than just plated? Thanks!
Anonymous
May 30, 2019
Good information, very thankful...⭐️
Anonymous
May 28, 2019
The sugar cup I have is stamped E& C in a shield with a 1 above and an S below
Anonymous
May 17, 2019
My soup ladle is stamped with the letter S and a halmark is this Sterling
Anonymous
January 6, 2019
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Anonymous
November 8, 2018
I have a tea pot (8 oz) that was my mother in law's. It has a number 155 on the left, EYT in the middle and an arrow pointing down without the feathers. Under the EYT it has 03553, next line 8 oz, next line appears to be a N or M. Above the EYT is a glob of what looks to be solder???? On it is stamped something possibly saying MC, MCT,ACT???? Next line in the solder looks like a number 3 or 31 maybe? Can you tell me if this is silver, why the glob of solder (??). and anything else you may know to help me with finding how old and possible value? Or where I can go to find out? Thank you very much.
Anonymous
October 15, 2018
I have a small mug with sterling 460 with a bird looks like a penguin with the letter G on the stomach what does this mean?
Anonymous
June 3, 2018
Excellent article. Thank you Martha!
Anonymous
May 30, 2018
Hello, I bought a silver Coffee/Tea pot for $4 at a thrift store. On the bottom it says made in England it has a stamp, it is also engraved with lettering or word on the bottom but I can’t make it out it looks like it was done with some type of chisel or pin. On the front of the pot is says St.P AM . The handle is Wooden. It is not shiny whatsoever very dingy almost has a copper look to it. it could be worth nothing I just don’t know how to go about getting it appraised .
Anonymous
May 21, 2018
Hello, Thank you for the article. I have a engraved coffee pot that appears to be silverplate. However, there are no marks to be found. Do all manufacturers mark their pieces or do some countries not require a mark? Thanks for the opportunity to ask a questions. Rhonda
Anonymous
May 16, 2018
Hello, Ms. Stewart, We recently received two different (mass-manufactured) made-in-USA money clips of sterling from an old "jewelry house" in Rhode Island. The makers' marks are very small, but they look like: for the one: AZN 925 Made in USA -and for the other- AZN (we think) STERLING USA The company we ordered from is headquartered in Warwick, RI. We understand that "Sterling" (the old American standard) and "925" (the customary European, now new American standard) both mean 92.5% jewelers' silver, and the country of origin is clear, but can you help us identify the maker or makers? Customer Service was unable to help us, as they aren't the vendor and claim not to know who the manufacturer might be! We'd be grateful for any help Sincerely, Al Smalling, Chicagoallensmalling@gmail.com 16 May 2018
Anonymous
February 23, 2018
Hello Martha, I have a small Sterling Silver & Glass Hip flask I'm trying to identify. Marks are as follows: JD&S Crown Lion (1 paw raised) Letter Y can you assist me please
Anonymous
February 22, 2018
Thank you , it was really helpful and I learned quite a bit about silver marks.
Anonymous
February 17, 2018
I own a small glass Hip-flask with a Silver lid and a small silver removable cup. It was found in the rubble when contractors demolished the old Carlton Hotel in Johannesburg S.A. The Silver Mark is as follows: JD&S... Crown...Lion = one paw raised and finally a capital letter Y How can I find out which year this was made in, I think it was a James Dixon & Son piece, but I can't be sure. Please can you assist me. Many thanks. Suzanne
Anonymous
January 23, 2018
Hi. I have a pair of silver plated goblets here, with the marking "PERFECTION E.P.A.I" on their base. They're kinda round up top, like a coupe cocktail glass; have like a tree grain stem with grape-like maybe fig leaves around the top & base of the stems. Is something that doesn't have a date stamp, totally worthless? Can someone please offer some more information on these goblets? Who made them? Where they're from? When they were made/how old they are, roughly? How much they may be worth? They were bought at a thrift store for $6 & my Dad polished them up. They were to be a gift for newly weds tomorrow, but my Mum is now convinced they're worth keeping! Oh dear?! If you're a superhero & can help before then (16 hrs from now), thank you, in advance.
Anonymous
October 14, 2017
I have a very pretty vase with handle that has on bottom a pipe on each side of a shirt stamped in it. I can't find who's mark that is. also has 3731 stamped on it. vase is engraved with people and other items.
Anonymous
August 22, 2017
I have a delicate-looking set of napkin holders, which I'm sure are sterling, but its extremely hard to decipher what the imprint is. the holder is narrow and I don't want to bend it. What I've seen though is the following: " 8305 mylius Norway NM."...and there there;s an imprint of what I think is a little bird. I plan to sell it and would definitely need more info on this piece. THANK YOU.
Anonymous
June 29, 2017
I have what I believe to be an antique metal box. It is silver in color but it is not silver based on the lacking of any known mark on silver or silver plate to be what I have. Silver is not a concern, but a describing word. It is a smallish metal box, one that has not tarnish in 15 or so years since I've found it. The top says "RECORD" the bottom reads "ENGLISH MAKE". i cannot find anything with references to this stamp nor the description of the tin. Any references or knowledge would be greatly appreciated
Anonymous
May 16, 2017
I have a circa 1950 [filtered]tail set that looks and sounds like some kind of silver. The markings on the bottom are 00. Any information on what that means?
Anonymous
April 27, 2017
Hi, I have to admit I know nothing about silver, but I love collecting all things old. I purchased a pair of small cups in France with a single tiny square impressed mark of N&A below what looks like a jewellers lathe and I can't find any reference to either, has anyone any idea of their origin, any help would be most appreciated. Martin (UK)
Anonymous
April 13, 2017
I have a condiment set stamp with WB then horses head and silver can not find any reference to silver being stamped on pieces is this correct
Anonymous
March 1, 2017
I have an old silver tea set with this logo on the bottom, the handles are wooden I could not locate any information. the mark is a teapot then 800 followed by what looks like a silver wine glass. Help
Anonymous
February 10, 2017
I have an old silver tea or coffee pot and I would like to know who knows what V B C (with a little o inside the C ) and below that is the letters N S means? Is it the makers mark and if so who was or is it.
Anonymous
January 27, 2017
Help I have 6 forks from Furstlich decken mit Furst -Bestecken silver in red lined velvet box... label on back is 100 and a symbol with 2 umbrellas and a heart in the middle ...
Anonymous
July 11, 2016
I have a little vase. It states nr silver at bottom. I think its nr . Not sure as the SILVER is highly visible but Nr hard to see above it. Is this plated or real 925 ? Its very decorative. So hard to tell.
Anonymous
October 4, 2015
I am trying to identify some silver flatware left to me. It is called Versailles ...says made in Netherlands, marked with a large C with a crown over it, followed by box with 150 1, then another box with a crown in it. I do not know if this is sterling? Silver plate? or its Value? Thanks L
Anonymous
July 11, 2015
I have 6 silver spoons that I bought in Poland in the late 1990's. The marking says in the bowl of the spoon. (in an oval) 3 (then a pic of a womans head in a scarf) then the number 3. Next to this outside of the oval are the letters S.O. Can you give me an idea of what that means please? They each weight 16gms
Anonymous
March 2, 2015
quisiera saber , tengo una cuchara que lleva inscrita por el reverso : Potosi Silver , luego tiene un ave con alas abiertas y encima estan las letras : L&S , luego : JB en mayusculas ....(es un poco amarillenta) ...por lo que dedusco que no sea un cubierto de plata...y tenga en su composicion mas laton o Nikel..
Anonymous
January 2, 2015
Does anyone know what x1455 means stamped on a silver bowl?
Anonymous
July 14, 2014
What a great site, I learned so much! I have an antique silver charm. The front depicts the Loch Ness monster and has enameling, however on the back the word "silver" is inscribed. No sterling. I have never come across this before. Should anyone know the significance of the word "silver," I would greatly appreciate your help. Thanks,
Anonymous
March 15, 2013
The so called russian piece is actually german : the moon crescent with imperial crown is the hallmark of Germany since late 19th century. 800 is the degree of purtity of silver (800/°°)
Anonymous
February 12, 2013
Silver Soldered This is another slightly cryptic way of saying silver-plated. This is incorrect. This means that any mounts or attachments were attached with silver solder.
Anonymous
February 12, 2013
Sterling Inlaid Advertising itself as sterling, this mark for silver plate is perhaps the most deceptive. Even some dealers are fooled. This is incorrect. On some expensive plated flatware, sterling was inlaid in the heal and the handle – the areas that received the most wear.
Anonymous
February 12, 2013
Russia The number 800 (bottom) was the Imperial Russian notation for sterling silver. This is incorrect. Both hallmarks are German.
Anonymous
March 9, 2009
A great website to identify marks on Antiques
Anonymous
March 9, 2009
A great website to identify marks on Antiques
Anonymous
March 9, 2009
A great website to identify marks on Antiques