One thing that confuses novice collectors more than anything else is “silverware,” a term that one would think implied the item was indeed constructed of silver, but since the 1840′s, that hasn’t been the case. Until silver electroplating was perfected and patented by Henry and George Richard Elkington in 1840, most silverware was exactly that, 80- to 92.5-percent pure silver. The Elkinton’s patented process allowed the appearance of “silverware” by using only a very thin layer of pure silver, usually from 1/1,000 to 2/1,000 of an inch (0.03 to 0.05 millimeter) thick on a base metal such as copper, brass or Britannia metal (a type of hard pewter).
A genuine English Hallmark
To the average person, Coin or Sterling silver don’t look much different than silverplate pieces, but where the difference lies is in the markings. By international convention, most countries have laws regarding the marking of precious metals such as silver and gold, generally referred to as “Hallmarks”—stamped marks from which the purity, the maker, city and date can be determined. Hall Marks had their origins in England, where all silver has been marked since the 14th century, and are a great aid in determining the history of a piece today. American silver is often marked with the word “Sterling” (925/1000ths. pure silver), “Coin” (800/1000ths. pure silver) or with numerical markings that indicate the same thing “925″ or “800.”
An example of a psuedo hallmark
Where the trouble started was when late 19th century makers of American silverplate began to realize they could improve their sales if they marked their products in a similar way to English hallmarks, such marks giving the impression of quality “just like Sterling.” Today, Appraisers and Dealers refer to these as “Pseudo Hallmarks,” which take many forms, but they generally appear as two or five punched marks in Old English script.
The wonderful thing about them though is they actually spell out their true metal content, as can be decoded as shown below. So if your “Silverware” has any of the markings listed below you can rest assured it’s not “Sterling”
EP - Electroplate
EPBM - Electroplated Britannia Metal
EPNS - Electroplate on Nickel Silver (nickel silver is a nickel/brass alloy)
EPC - Electroplated Copper
EPWM - Electroplated White Metal
EPNS-WMM - Electroplated Nickel Silver with White Metal Mounts
Photographs courtesy of www.silvercollection.it
Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.
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