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Centuries of stamps, symbols and signatures stamped into silver

The last article about Sterling Silver brought in a deluge of questions from readers. Apparently cupboards were emptied, attics searched and basements upturned as treasure hunters eagerly sought out potentially priceless items. Just as with the Antiques Roadshow no doubt there were a few who were disappointed to find that their pieces were actually some kind of base-metal doing a fine job of imitating Sterling. So, to hopefully help you out as you polish off the years of tarnish on your metalware, here are a few pointers to help sort out the real thing from the ‘wannabes.’ While actual Sterling Silver is used in the plating process it is virtually impossible for a refinery to recover it from pieces that have been plated. In fact it can take as little as 40 grams of silver to plate a set of twelve knives, forks and spoons. Picture for a moment, a human hair lying flat on a knife blade - not a pretty sight but bear with me. Now consider this; an average human hair is 45 microns thick and the thickness of silver on plated items can range from as little as three to 30 microns. When an object has such a thin covering of silver one can see why there is such a price differential between ‘plated’ and Sterling objects. Even a ‘heavily-plated’ piece has but a miniscule of silver coating it. Without getting too technical, or going into the science involved in the plating process, the following are just some of the markings which indicate that a method of putting a few microns of actual silver on to an object made from a base (inferior) metal has been used. Knowledge of these markings should help you distinguish what is not true – Sterling – silver. Perhaps the most common mark seen is that of E.P.N.S. which indicates that an item has been electro-plated with nickel silver. Despite its name, nickel silver contains no silver at all; rather, it is an alloy of nickel, zinc and copper. Other marks indicate a plating process where a layer of pure silver is deposited electrolytically on on to a base metal such as copper to give an overall silver finish. The range of markings used by various makers is vast and the following is but a small example of just a few of the other commonly found markings indicating ‘plated wares’ E.P.B.M. (electro-plated britania metal), E.P. (electro-plate), C.P.N.S. (copper-plated nickel silver), E.P.W.M. (electro-plated white metal), Sheffield Plate, Quadruple Plate, Nevada Silver, German Silver, E.P.C. (electro-plated copper) and so on. Many countries have their own ‘hallmarking’ system in place to guarantee the quality of their silverware and there are plenty of online resources available for anyone who wants to learn more about their items. Most of the websites do not, or will not, give indications of value for your items as they are there for research and are not appraisers. Two of my favourite websites which have marks from all around the world are: the “Online Encyclopedia of Silver Marks, Hallmarks and Makers Marks” at http://www.925-1000.com/ and the people at “Silver Makers Marks” at http://www.silvermakersmarks.co.uk/ Both sites have a vast amount of information not only for Sterling and its equivalent but also markings which help to identify and date your plated wares. Over the last few years the market for plated wares has been really low. Even quality pieces have been regarded as being almost worthless and much has been thrown away. However, people have recently begun to realize that silver plated pieces can represent fantastic value for money. When one considers the price of a new stainless steel knife, fork and spoon compared to a quality antique or vintage plated place setting, one can easily see why ‘plate’ is making a comeback. I encourage anyone interested in learning more about silver and plated wares to visit the above mentioned sites. Collecting can be lots of fun especially if you know what you are doing and with today’s technology there is a wealth of information readily available to all. Tony Duke provides comprehensive appraisal services for Estate Planning, Down-sizing, Probate, Property Division, Insurance, Antique Acquisitions and Sales. See Tony’s website, www.TonyDuke.ca for articles and information on all aspects of protecting your antiques, collectibles and personal property. Also check www.VanIsleAntiques for a listing of the Island’s Antique Dealers, Appraisers and Events. Send your appraisal and antique questions to: AntiqueExpert@TonyDuke.ca

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