Did you ever hear the saying ‘Born with a silver spoon in his mouth’ and wonder where it came from? You probably figured that it’s because richer families used to gift silver spoons to newborns, and it’s true that silver utensils used to denote class. But did you also know that before the 1700s, people used to carry their own spoons around with them – like keys or a wallet – and that pulling out a silver one when you went to dinner at someone’s house was like showing them that you were no peasant!
Even today, silver objects signify riches and luxury, and that’s why silver antiques are so popular. A lot of times I get customers at the shop looking for silver items, but they’re often confused about what they should buy. Silver, sterling silver, silver-plate – what’s the difference, they ask?
The truth is, all three are quite different, and this is important because if you’re buying an antique, the kind of silver it is will really determine how valuable it is.
Silver – also known as fine silver – is a 99.9% pure metal. Pure silver is super-soft and malleable, which means it’s just not durable, and so you’ll rarely find pure silver objects on sale.
To counter the issue of durability, silversmiths started adding other metals into silver to make it more practical. That’s how sterling silver came about. Sterling is an alloy which has around 92.5% of silver and the rest other metals. If you’ve ever seen the mark ‘925’ on a silver piece, that’s what it means. When mixed with copper, steel or iron, silver becomes much stronger and it can then be made into things like cutlery, frames, candlesticks, coffee sets and so on.
Silver plate, on the other hand, is something pretty different. Silver plating is a chemical process that adds a very thin layer of silver to something which is made of a different metal. So silver plated items tend to be heavier – as well as much cheaper! – than sterling silver. But it’s worth remembering that silver plated pieces don’t really hold their value as well, because there’s so little actual silver in them.
Do you have a silver piece that you simply love? Let us know! We love hearing about your personal collections.
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