People start out on a journey of collecting for many reasons – perhaps they have inherited a piece that piques their interest to collect more, or they find it enjoyable to spend weekends browsing antique shops to grow their collection. With silver, of course, there is also the added investment consideration. If you are a beginner collector, how do you know if something is silver plated or solid silver?
It goes back to 1742 when a Sheffield cutler invented silver plate by spilling molten silver that fused onto the copper handle of a knife. Referred to as the Old Sheffield Plate, this new metal made silver items accessible to the masses.
Although silver plated items do not bear a hallmark, early items that date from 1742 to 1840 can often be identified as only one side of the item was usually plated. Thus, the underside of a silver plated tray will be the base metal in its original state. Later pieces however were fused on both sides.
The Process of Silver Plating
Silver plating is a process where a thin layer of silver is deposited onto the surface of a base metal, usually copper, brass, or nickel. The resulting product is referred to as silver plated or silverplate. Silver plating is a cost-effective way to give base metals the appearance of silver without the expense of using solid silver. It is commonly used in the manufacturing of tableware, including silverware, tea sets, and trays. It is also used in the production of decorative items, such as picture frames, candlesticks, and jewelry.
The process of silver plating involves several steps. The base metal is first cleaned to remove any dirt, oils, or other contaminants that may interfere with the plating process. It is then electroplated with a thin layer of silver, which is typically around 0.5 microns thick.
There are different types of silver plating, including electrolytic plating and electroless plating. Electrolytic plating involves immersing the base metal in a solution containing silver ions and using an electrical current to deposit the silver onto the metal. Electroless plating, on the other hand, involves using a chemical reaction to deposit the silver onto the metal without the use of electricity.
How to Tell if an Item is Silver Plated?
Determining whether an item is silver plated or solid silver can be challenging, especially if the item is tarnished or in poor condition. However, there are several methods that can help you determine whether an item is silver plated.
The first method involves examining the item's hallmark. Most silver plated items will have a hallmark or stamp on the bottom or back of the item. The hallmark will typically indicate the manufacturer, the year the item was made, and the metal content. However, instead of indicating the metal content as "925" for example (indicating sterling silver), the hallmark will indicate the base metal used, such as "EPNS" (Electro Plated Nickel Silver), "EPBM" (Electro Plated Britannia Metal), or "EPWM" (Electro Plated White Metal).
The second method involves examining the item's surface. Silver plated items will typically have a thin layer of silver over a base metal, which can be seen if you examine the item closely. If you can see any areas where the base metal is visible, then the item is likely silver plated.
The third method involves testing the item's conductivity. Solid silver is an excellent conductor of electricity, so if you have a multimeter, you can test the item's conductivity by touching the item with the multimeter's probes. If the item is silver plated, it will have a lower conductivity than solid silver.
The fourth method involves using a magnet. Silver is not magnetic, so if you place a magnet near the item and it is attracted to the magnet, then it is not made of silver. However, if the item is not attracted to the magnet, it does not necessarily mean it is silver plated.
How to Tell the Difference between Silver and Silver Plated?
In order to better understand what is the difference between Silver and Silver Plated, we invite you to check this article "The Difference between Sterling Silver and Silver-Plated Metal"
Care and Maintenance of Silver Plated Items
To preserve the beauty and value of your silver-plated treasures, it's essential to understand how to care for and maintain them. Silver-plated items can tarnish over time due to exposure to air and moisture. Regular cleaning and proper storage are key to keeping your collection in pristine condition. Learn about the do's and don'ts of silver plate maintenance:
Do's for Maintenance
Regular Cleaning: Make cleaning your silver-plated items a regular part of your routine, especially if they are frequently used. This prevents tarnish from building up.
Proper Drying: After cleaning, ensure your items are thoroughly dried to prevent water spots and potential corrosion.
Storage: Store your silver-plated items in a dry, cool place away from direct sunlight. Use a tarnish-resistant storage cloth or bags to protect them from environmental elements.
Handling with Clean Hands: Before touching your silver-plated items, wash your hands to remove any oils or dirt that could transfer onto the surface.
Use Soft Bristle Brushes: If necessary, use soft-bristle brushes, like a toothbrush, to clean intricate details on items. Be gentle to avoid scratching.
Don'ts for Maintenance
Avoid Dishwashers: Never place silver-plated items in a dishwasher. The high heat, detergents, and mechanical action can damage the silver layer.
Skip Silver Dip Baths: Avoid using silver dip baths unless you are absolutely certain that your item can withstand it. These can be too harsh for some silver-plated items.
Avoid Tissues or Paper Towels: Do not use tissues or paper towels for polishing, as they can scratch the surface. Stick to soft, non-abrasive materials.
Direct Contact with Food: If you use silver-plated serving dishes, avoid direct contact with acidic foods like citrus fruits. These can corrode the silver layer.
Neglecting Tarnish: Don't leave tarnish unattended for too long. Tarnish can become more difficult to remove if left for extended periods.
Toothpaste Is an Effective Silver Polish: Using toothpaste to polish silver-plated items is a common misconception. While toothpaste can remove tarnish, it is abrasive and can scratch the silver layer, causing more harm than good. It's best to use a dedicated silver polish or a gentle cleaning solution.
The affordability of silver-plated items doesn't diminish their appeal. From decorative pieces to tableware and jewelry, there's a wide range of options to choose from. So, the next time you're in search of a gift that exudes elegance but doesn't strain your wallet, consider the timeless allure of silver-plated items.
Silver-plated items hold timeless charm, making them ideal for special occasions like weddings, anniversaries, and milestone birthdays. Their classic designs and gleaming surfaces captivate hearts, connecting the past with the present and the present with the future. It's a gift that encapsulates the enduring nature of your sentiments, ensuring that your gesture stands the test of time.
Is silver plate worth anything?
Silver plates cannot be melted down and re-sold as sterling silver can, which makes it less valuable than sterling silver. However, there is value in silver plated items which comes less from the value of the silver content than the age, maker, and quality of the item. With two similar items of comparable design, size, and age, the sterling silver item will be more valuable, based on its silver content compared to that of a plated item.