Is there an easy way to tell what grade a silver item is? — Austin in Naperville, IL

The easiest way without testing equipment or chemicals is to look for hallmarks that indicate whether an item is sterling silver.

You may notice small markings on items, usually found in the inside of rings, on clasps of necklaces or on the back of plates. These markings are called hallmarks and can indicate what type of metal you have and how much it may be worth. They are often extremely small so you may need a magnifying glass to read them.  As long as you bought the item from a reputable source, they tend to be very accurate.

Sterling silver items are called Sterling, Sterling Silver or Solid Silver and they are typically marked with 925, 925/1000, 92.5 or .925. The abbreviation SS is also commonly seen for sterling silver. These markings reveal that the item is made from 925 parts out of 1000 of fine silver, the minimum allowable quality for an item to be considered sterling. It is the law that the name or U.S. registered trademark of the company or person is on a quality marked silver item.  We will often ask people the brand and make of their silverware so that we can help them determine whether their silver flatware is sterling or plated although our testing equipment ultimately tells us for sure once we get the items into our facility.

For older pieces, silver may come in many more varieties.  800 silver which was 800 parts silver was very common outside of the United States and before the 1900s as were other 750, 825, and 830.

Another common form of silver on older items is 900.  It refers to coin silver which is 90% silver and 10% copper.  It’s composition was dictated by United States FTC guidelines and established in the 1820s for minting silver coinage.  As such, it is often called “coin silver.”

For further information, see video on refining silver flatware.