Sterling silver is a commonly used and highly collected metal. Silver has been the metal of choice for such collectible objects as Colonial tea sets, Native American jewelry and Old Pawn Indian jewelry, even Olympic collectibles and Olympic medals. The term sterling silver refers to objects that contain 925 parts per 1000 parts pure silver. The other 75 parts in the 1000 parts of sterling silver is usually copper for strength and durability. According to the Federal Trade Commission's jewelry guidelines, items that are stamped with the words "sterling silver" must have these properties.
What to Look For
Sterling silver pieces must, by law, be clearly marked. There are a few well known ways that sterling silver is marked using symbols, numbers and letters. An acceptable mark for sterling silver is the word "sterling" or "sterling silver" spelled out on a piece, an image or depiction of a lion facing left called the lion passante, and the number 925 to indicate the 925 parts silver purity standard. These marks indicate value and quality and have been widely used. Like decoding and understanding pottery marks and other markings on antiques, if you can't find the marks that tell you that you have a piece of sterling silver, you probably don't have a piece of sterling silver. But, I have also seen many people overlook the mark just because they don't know where to look. Then, I find the mark when they bring a piece to one of my events. Look for large pieces with good weight and quality designs and decoration on pieces of sterling silver.
Coin silver is a type of silver that contains 900 parts per 1000 parts along with 100 parts of another metal. This silver was often called coin because over the centuries government silver coins were melted down to make other objects like jewelry, tankards, etc. This was done before commercial sheet silver was widely available.
German silver or nickel silver refers to a metal with a silver appearance or color that has no elemental silver content. German silver or nickel silver is typically made up of 600 parts copper, 200 parts zinc, and 200 parts nickel to make a complete 1000 parts.
Here comes the good news about silver, particularly pertaining to sterling silver. Sterling silver should not be excessively polished. Polishing silver can be abrasive and it can result in scratching off a full layer of the silver's surface. All this polishing can damage the integrity and quality of your sterling silver object. It is best to polish your sterling silver pieces no more than twice a calendar year. Every time you polish a piece of silver you run the risk of scratching off one thin layer of sterling silver. When you polish, use a soft cloth and be gentle in order to enjoy your sterling for years to come.
Is sterling silver valuable? In a word, yes. Like the gold market, the silver market will experience changes over time but sterling silver remains a highly sought after metal and depending on the piece can bring great value to owners.
Get an online appraisal report on your sterling silver piece from Dr. Lori.