"How can I tell if my flatware is sterling or silverplated?" This is our most frequently-asked question. If it doesn't have word "sterling", then it most likely is not sterling silver. The word "sterling" is found on American silver dating after 1860. Early American silver is very rare and was usually marked with only maker's name or initials. Silverplate has maker or company name and often includes terms such as "A1" or "quadruple plate". These are various descriptions of amount of applied silver.
Whether you choose to collect sterling or silverplate, following tips apply.
Choose a Style, Era or Maker. Reflect upon your lifestyle and personal taste, then make choices that will be a good fit. There are many specialty areas of silver collecting. Some collectors are devoted to a pattern while others collect a particular maker or era. Some only collect a particular type of piece, such as fish servers or tea strainers, and many expand into all areas.
Mix-n-Match. The mixing and matching of patterns has great aesthetic appeal on any table. This is a wonderful option particularly with hard-to-find, discontinued flatware patterns and is often a must for affordable entertaining.
Wear or Damage. Signs of use do not necessarily detract from value while damage may or may not. Slight damage on a rare flatware or hollow ware piece will not significantly reduce value, if at all. Be wary of buying tarnished silver as it can hide otherwise obvious wear, damage or repair. The price of a tarnished piece should be signficantly lower than retail because true condition of a tarnished piece is unknown.
Monograms. Many collectors view old, elaborate monograms as a lost art form and historically important. It does not detract from desirability or value of a piece. If pieces you collect are readily available without monograms, they are, in this case, more valuable if they do not or never had one. Monogram removal can damage a piece and is, in most cases, easily detectable.