Silver holds a very important place in history. It marks a transition in to an era of fine production and craftmanship. A lustrous soft metal it was initially a sign of status and only the very wealthy ate with silverware, others eating from tin, steel and wood. Gradually as mass production accelerated throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, it became more commonplace to have a silver tea set, and dinnerware to be used on special occasions.
The styles of silver reflect the ever-changing tastes of society over centuries. Motifs, techniques and forms repeat themselves in silver, earthenware, porcelain and furniture alike. This is why if you can recognize the specific styles you can begin to give a description to your piece.
However, fortunately with silverware, hallmarks provide a much more reliable way of finding out all your need to know about the piece. Hallmarks are marks which have been stamped on to items of silver. They typically show an assay mark to identify where the piece was made and when it is dated to. These hallmarks will usually be accompanied by a standard mark (indicating the percentage of silver) and a maker’s mark. Other marks to commemorate an important event or year in history can also be found from time to time. If you notice hallmarks on your piece of silver there are a number of online sites to help you decipher them.
It is important to remember that not everything is as it appears! Sometimes hallmarks have been tampered with, they can be stamped and then rubbed to appear like they are authentic and this is usually done to make a piece seem like it is older and rarer. It can be very tricky to tell whether these marks are legitimate or not and you should always seek the advice of an experienced valuer in this case.
Silver plated items are not solid silver and therefore do not tend to do very well at auction. You may find the letters EPNS (electroplated nickel silver) stamped on silver plate and this will help to distinguish between solid and plated silver.
Today the use of silver in our homes has almost all but vanished. It is more commonly bought by collectors, or those who have an interest in displaying it in their homes. Silver that is not of particularly high quality in terms of its appearance and/or craftmanship and is not rare or sought after can still be sold today for its value in weight of silver which is often used in industry due to its high level of conductivity.