Sterling silver and silver plate (also spelled silverplate) are totally different. And to be quite honest, it’s hard for most people to tell the difference. This often leads to scamming.
So let’s keep it simple. Sterling silver is where the real value is. If you own a lot of sterling silver, that’s a good thing financially speaking. Silverplate isn’t bad – it’s just a lot less valuable. Let’s dive a little deeper into the real meaning of each.
Simply put, sterling silver is pretty close to the ‘real deal’. Sterling silver is 92.5% (.925) silver. So what makes up the rest of the sterling silver? Other metals; usually copper or nickel. A real silver bar, a.k.a. fine silver, is .999 silver.
Sterling silver is used to make a variety of products, such as nice jewelry, plates, or even coins. So why not use fine silver? Why does it have to be mixed? Fine silver is quite soft and can be easily damaged. When combined with other metals, fine silver becomes much more durable.
When it comes to sterling silver, weight is important. Often times it’s a strong selling/buying point for collectors. Any way you look at it, sterling silver is worth good money. It’s an investment, and will hold its value over time.
Silverplate is worth a lot less than sterling silver. Why? It contains much less pure silver. When you buy a product made of silverplate, you’re buying something that’s made mostly of fairly cheap metal – like copper, steel, or something similar. The pure silver is then fused on top of the metal, creating a very thin layer.
Fun fact: If you’re like most people, you probably refer to your eating utensils as “silverware”. In the old days, silverware was commonly made out of sterling silver. Nowadays, it rarely is. In fact, it’s rarely even made of silverplate. Most “silverware” is actually made of only metal, such as stainless steel. It’s commonly advertised as flatware. If you want a set of sterling silverware, it’s definitely out there. You’ll just have to spend at least $1,000.
So how do you spot the difference between sterling silver and silverplate? The simplest way to do so is look for a number 925 or the word sterling written somewhere. One of these will symbolize what should be an authentic sterling silver product. If the product has a manufacturer’s name on it, it’s most likely silverplate.
You can also run a second test with a magnet. If a magnet is attracted to the product, it’s not sterling silver. The best way to tell, however, is taking the item you have in question to a specialist.
Gary Dyner is the owner of Great American Coin Company. Connect with him on Google+.