Is It Sterling Silver or Silver Plate? How to Tell!

Many people over the years have asked me how to tell, “Is it sterling silver or silverplate?” I’m going to answer that question in today’s article, and once you learn, you’ll never again have a problem telling them apart.

Is it sterling or silver plate? Here's how to tell the difference!

Table of Contents

Sterling & Silverplate Definitions
Sterling Marks
Silver Plate Marks
What If It’s Not Marked?
Where are the Sterling Marks Located?

What is the Difference Between Sterling and Silverplate?

Sterling silver is pure (or nearly pure) silver. In other words, it’s mixed with very little other metals.

In fact, it is generally 92.5% pure; the remaining 7.5% is comprised of a harder metal, like copper, that gives the sterling a stable shape.

Silver Plate refers to items that have a relatively thin layer of sterling silver added over another metal, usually a combination of nickle, zinc, and copper.

Is Sterling Silver or Silverplate Better?

Sterling silver, because it’s made up of almost pure silver, is of much greater value than silver plate, which merely has a thin layer of sterling applied over the top of a low value metal.

What Marks Indicate Sterling (or Near Sterling)?

Sterling silver has a long, storied history. Suffice it to say, various countries throughout the years have used different “marks” to reflect the purity of a particular piece.

Covering this history would require half the internet, so we’re going to stick with marks that the average antique seller would come across. [The merchandise of average sellers typically ranges in price from $5 to $100.]

Almost all sterling is marked in some way. Here are the some of the marks you’re most like to come across while out antique shopping:

America.925900, CoinSterling, Sterl
England.925.9584Lion (side)
Mexico.925 Mexico940, 960, 970, 980SterlingEagleHandwritten: Sterling
Germany.925800, 830Sterling GermanyCrescent & Crown
Italy.925 Italy800IAB, SCF
Thailand.925 Thailand

What Marks Indicate Silver Plate?


Vintage charlie McCarthy spoon marked "silver plate"


Silver champagne bucket marked EPNS


Spoon marked EP for electro-plate


3 spoons marked "community" plate

Quadruple Plate

Vintage tea set marked quadruple plate

A1 and AA

A1 and AA marks on silverplated spoons

A1 indicates the highest quality of silver plate manufactured by Rogers (a prolific flatware maker). AA means that during production Rogers used only 1/3 of the amount of silver used on A1 pieces.

Is There a Market for Silver Plate?

By and large there is little market for silver plate at the current time. You can typically come across piles of the stuff at thrift stores and estate sales. They practically have to give it away.

Exceptions to the rule might include more desirable shapes, like a champagne bucket, or items that might be collected for another reason. For example, a pin cushion fashioned from a silver plated shoe or a silver plated toothpick.

Do however examine those piles of silver plate since ocassionally you’ll find a piece of sterling!

Related Article: 41 Items Antique Sellers Should Avoid

Why is Gold Jewelry Sometimes Marked Sterling

Gold belt ring marked .925

Some gold jewelry, that looks like “real” gold, started out as a sterling silver piece to which a light coat or flash of genuine gold is applied. These pieces are often marked STERLING, which can be confusing given that the piece is clearly gold, not silver.

What If It’s Not marked?

If an item isn’t marked one way or the other, then you’ll have to learn some of the qualities of each to help you evaluate your item.

I recommend handling both sterling and silver plated items regularly at antique shows and antique malls. This will help you to familiarize yourself with their individual qualities. Here are some to think about:

How to Test for Sterling Silver

  1. Weight: Sterling silver items typically weigh quite a bit less than silverplated ones.
  2. Pliability: Sterling silver items will bend fairly easily.
  3. Wear: If you see another color metal “breaking through” the silver, it’s likely plated.
  4. Magnetism: Sterling silver is not magnetic. Most silverplate is (due to the underlying metal).
  5. General Appearance: Genuine sterling has a certain glow about it that silverplate lacks.
  6. Presence of Verdigris: If you see any green verdigris, it’s silverplate; the plating has worn away to reveal an alloy that’s gone green with verdigris.
Verdigris on silver plate spoon

Here’s an example of a spoon showing signs of verdigris.

Where to Look for Sterling Marks


Sterling silver earring with pale blue crystal marked .925

Always check on the earwire of pierced earrings to see if they are marked in any way. Keep in mind that just because the wire is marked as sterling doesn’t necessarily mean that the rest of the earring is also.

In the case of the earring above, look to the silver part of the dangle near where the crystal is attached and you’ll see very faintly that it is marked .925. They sold on eBay for $10.50

Sterling silver hoop earring marked .925

Another place to look for marks on earrings is the “latch” that holds it onto your ear, as is the case with these silver hoops. These have yet to sell. Value: $20-22

In the case of these silver and amethyst earrings, you find the 925 mark on the back of the danglely bit. They sold on Etsy for $26.

Tinkerbell earrings marked Ster

The wings on these Tinkerbell earrings are marked Ster. They sold for $10 on eBay.

Tabra Silver and onyx earrings marked .925

Here’s an example of earrings with a .925 mark hand-etched onto the back. You also see the name “Tabra,” which signifies that the piece was manufactured in Bali by this well-known artisan’s artisan. These silver and onyx earrings sold on eBay for $130.

Sterling and onyx clip on earrings marked 925 Mexico

On this stunning pair of silver and onyx clip on earrings, you find a Mexico 925 mark on the back, as shown. With screw back earrings, you usually find a Sterling or 925 mark on the circular back of the “screw.”

Related Articles


3 silver bangles marked sterling

Typically, when it comes to silver bangles, you will find the sterling mark on the inside, as with the above example. This set sold for $75.

Aquamarine bracelet marked 925 Thailand

With tennis bracelet style bracelets, like this silver and aquamarine example, you’ll often find the mark on the clasp. It sold for $20.

Silver & Onyx bracelet marked Mexico 925

And here again, you see the mark, Mexico 925, on the clasp of this pretty silver and onyx bracelet. It sold for $25.

Related Article: Upscale Your Stretchy Bracelets


Reed & Barton Sterling silver spoon ring

In almost all cases you will find ring marks on the inside of the band. This spoon ring made by Reed & Barton is marked sterling in this location. It sold on Etsy for $25.

You can see this amethyst ring marked 925 on the inside of the band. It sold on Etsy for $25.


Sterling necklace marked 925

I find quite a lot of Italian silver on my shopping excersions. You will often find the mark on part of the clasp, as with this pretty silver necklace, signed .925 Italy on the end bit (left of lobster clasp). It hasn’t sold yet. Value: $35+

Sterling necklace with large blue crystals

A tricky place to look for a sterling mark is on the bit of a lobster claw that opens and closes when the lever is pressed. This mark is often overlooked. You can tell from the photo of the clasp on this distinctive crystal necklace just how small and unnoticeable it is.

This piece has not sold yet. Value: $65

St. Christophers medal and turtle pendant marked sterling

In the case of necklaces with silver pendants, both it and the chain should be marked. Here you see a St. Christopher’s medal marked sterling on the front and a turtle pendant marked on the back.

The medal sold for $27 on Etsy, but the turtle hasn’t sold yet. Value: $25

Related Article: Make Necklaces From Found Objects


Shell cameo with 925 mark

This pretty cameo brooch is marked 925 on the back, as most brooches are. It sold for $45.

MCM Leaf shaped brooch marked Sterling

I never did get to the bottom of the meaning of the word “Tallon” on this MCM brooch with a jade cabochon. I suppose it’s the artist signature?

In any event, this is another example of a piece of sterling silver given a gold wash (or plating). It’s also an example of a piece with sterling hand etched onto the back. It sold for $47 on Etsy.


Antique sterling silver spoon

In most cases with sterling silver flatware you will find it marked sterling on the back, like this spoon engraved “Bessie”.

You may however come across a piece that has a series of hallmarks. If the first is a lion (side view), it is likely English sterling. In the chart above I’ve provided a couple of examples of the character marks used by other countries.

A bit of online research should reveal whether a particular mark means the piece is sterling. The spoon hasn’t sold yet. Value: $20-25

Related Article: Make Garden Markers From Flatware


Sterling silver whisk broom

Pieces like this silver-handled whisk broom are often marked along the rim. It can be hard to find so be diligent! It sold for $35 (2015).


Sterling silver hand mirror

On this silver hand mirror, you can find a sterling mark on the handle. As with the whisk broom, you will sometimes find it on the edge around the mirror or on the side of the handle. It sold for $30.


As you can see, this silver thimble is marked sterling on the outside. (11 refers to the size.) Alternatively, you might find a mark on the inside edge or inside bottom. It hasn’t sold yet. Value: $22-25.


Examples of sterling silver overlay

In your vintage travels, you may come across pieces like these with a thin coat of sterling silver decoration. It is referred to as silver overlay.

The early 1900’s piece on the left, an antique French china cup with hand painting and silver overlay, sold on Etsy for $58.

The vintage glass dish on the right with silver overlay dates to the 1950’s when this style became very popular again. Unfortunately there is little to no market for these pieces at this time.


I hope I’ve answered any questions you have about the differences between sterling silver and silver plate. Do keep in mind that I make no claim to be an expert (at anything!) but I’m always happy to share what I do know.

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Are you wondering, is it sterling or silver plate? Here's how to tell!

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  1. Learned a lot including places to look for the marks that I would never have thought about. Thanks for a great article! Connie

  2. Hi Diana,
    Great article!! So much info to help see the difference between silver and plated objects. I would love to see you write about gold vs. gold filled vs. gold plated, etc jewelry, etc. This ís confusing to me still when looking at old jewelry and I would love to know more.

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