Collecting antiques is a satisfying hobby for many people around the world. Nothing is quite as admirable as a carefully assembled display of fine pieces. Few collections, though, are quite as stunning and lovely as antique silver collections. It’s possible to build a beautiful collection of new and old pieces, but it’s the antique silver that impresses most and holds its value. Finding genuine antiques primarily comes down to knowing how to identify hallmarks on silver.
Understanding Silver Identifiers
The different markings on silver can be very confusing to first-time collectors. All real silver will include an identifying set of numbers that indicates the purity grade. Sterling silver is the purest variety, which means it wasn’t diluted with high quantities of other metals. In less pure types of silver, the silver is mixed with a more rigid metal and help it resist tarnishing to a degree.
Sterling silver is typically indicated with either 925 or 92.5, which means the piece is made up of 92.5% pure silver.
What Are Hallmarks?
Every artist worth their salt will leave a signature on each of their completed pieces. The same is true of the creator of any delicate object, whether it’s a sculpture, a painting, or a piece of hand-painted dishware. Manufacturers do the same—we’re all accustomed to seeing maker names on the bottoms of our coffee mugs and plates. Any company interested in building a brand will place a permanent mark on its pieces.
This practice has been around for centuries, so it should be no surprise that silver-makers also wish to be identified with their beautiful work. A “hallmark” is a term for the identifier left on a piece. Typically, it appears in the form of stamped symbols or lettering, often on the bottom or inner areas of the piece, out of direct sight.
The best way to identify hallmarks on silver is to choose a period and begin reading collector catalogs. Catalogs are great references for people looking to buy or sell sterling silver. Each text includes the latest relative value of a piece and background information on the maker, including its various markings through the years. Hallmarks can change much like how modern companies brand, so collecting silver from specific makers takes patience and a willingness to learn. Nevertheless, it’s a fun way to turn antiquing outings into exciting hunts as you hone your expertise as a collector.