Silver- A brief explanation of Silver Marks
Silver has been fashioned into items, treasured and collected for thousands of years. Like gold this precious metal has an allure that many people cannot resist. Also many people collect silver both because they appreciate it's beauty and the craftsmanship that goes into making a piece but also as an investment, silver will always have a certain value because it is traded as a precious commodity and many people believe that silver prices will rise in the long term.
However many people are confused by the various markings, grades and names for various different types of silver. So here is a quick guide to help you.
Like gold silver is graded in parts per thousand. For instance Sterling Silver is 925 parts pure silver while the other 75 parts are formed of other elements like copper or nickel. It may be easier to think of this in terms of percentages, so Sterling Silver is 92.5% pure silver. Silver can come in other grades like 999 or Fine Silver, which is nearly pure silver and is not used often, Britannia Silver which is at least 958, 900 or Coin Silver, 830 or Scandinavian Silver, 800 or German Silver which is often continental not just German. Other Silver like Chinese or Indian Silver can vary in grade and can often be quite low relatively in Silver content and are often not marked.
All silver should generally be marked in some form, whether it be Sterling, Silver or a number relating to the grade of silver, 925 for instance. British Hallmarks like those pictured are the most reliable form of mark and give information about the piece. In the example pictured from left to right we have the makers mark J.G, for Joseph Gloster, the Assay Office mark, in this case an anchor for Birmingham, the Lion Passant, the mark for British Sterling Silver, and the date letter which in this case corresponds to 1908. Different assay offices have different marks, for example a crown for Sheffield or a Leopards Head for London. Birmingham, London and Sheffield are the most common marks with the rarer marks like Chester, three wheat sheaves, being more valuable.
However many people confuse Silver Plate with solid Silver and there are also trade names which can add further confusion. Silver plate is a thin layer of Silver over another metal. Silver plate should not have any of the marks discussed above, the most common marking for Silver Plate is E.P.N.S. standing for Electro Plated Nickel Silver. There are also other trade names like Nickel Silver which unless plated contains no silver at all, Burma Silver which is Silver Plate made by a particular company. These are just a couple of examples, if in doubt consult an expert or there are many valuable resources available online.